Empowered by Support: Communities, Connections & Careers – Part 1

Whether you are a student or an experienced engineering leader, a robust network, an opportunity for peer learning, the prospects of mentorship, and a crowd-sourced catalogue of career opportunities are vital for your personal and professional progression. In this episode, we invited senior women technologists who have devoted decades of their lives, either full-time or as passionate volunteers, to creating and nurturing empowering communities for technical women.

Celebrating Technology Leaders Episode 12

Our panel, with host Bushra Anjum (ACM-W Standing Committees Chair and ACM Ubiquity Senior Editor), discussed various support and learning communities for women in tech. You can join these communities based on your individual goals and career stage. Our panellists also hoped to inspire you to create spaces where you can empower others and nurture a sense of belonging. This article highlights key discussions in three parts; you can watch the full video here.

We start with getting to know our panelists. Please tell us how your background, personal journey, interests, and career aspirations led you to where you are.

Nidhi: Bushra referred to our background as “Decades of experience”. So, I’m definitely one of those. I have a few decades of experience in Chief Technology and Product Officer roles. Like many of you on the panel, I’ve been the only woman engineer, the woman manager, and the only woman at the exec table. I got to a point where I felt that I needed to do something. After a ton of introspection, I realized that the pursuit of more is just relentless. I could have continued in a larger organisation, with a more significant role and more pay, but I felt like I’d arrived. I needed to do something to change the equation: Women hold less than nine percent of engineering exec roles, and it is my mission to change that, and that’s why I founded SheTO.org. Today we are the largest private network of women and non-binary engineering leaders. Our goal is to help new leaders grow and thrive in their careers. They, in turn, will inspire the next generation of women to enter and stay in the industry and aspire to these higher roles.

Kathleen: I’m currently the VP of engineering at OwnTrail, a community and platform that helps folks achieve their next milestones in life. How I got here today? I have a background in computer science. As a student, before college, I was equally interested in languages, math, and science; I didn’t really lean one way or the other. So, when I entered college, I considered linguistics and math. As a young student, I decided to major in French, travel, and be an exchange student – do a summer semester abroad after graduation. I wasn’t excited about the types of jobs I was getting: I was doing tech support and translation, but I wanted to have a broader pool of jobs to choose from. I wanted to be able to move anywhere I wanted to. So, I went back to college and got a degree in computer science, which is how I ended up in the field and worked through many companies over the decades.

Farah: What Kathleen said resonated. I was interested in reading and languages, but also science and math. The one thing that tipped it for me was that I was an avid gamer growing up. So I was comfortable with being behind the computer. At some point in early high school, I felt it would be fun to sit behind the computer all day. That didn’t pan out exactly as planned, but that was the idea. My interest in languages and reading was deeply influenced by my parents. My dad would always have a lot of books around the house. He was an engineer by profession. So, I was introduced to a vast range of topics at a very young age, which helped me consider my creative side within my technology roles. My background is in computer science. I had made that decision by the time I was in college; some of it was because I loved STEM subjects, but also because of a process of elimination. For example, I didn’t want to be a doctor. After I graduated, I started as an engineer at Microsoft and went on to management roles at Microsoft, eBay and Electronic Arts. I also had a chance to do a startup.

Rose: My background is in mathematics and computer science. I went the route of software engineering and had an opportunity to do a lot of consulting. I had an opportunity to work in the Telco space and the geospatial industry when mapping technologies were just getting started. I spent about 15 years there and then moved into finding a community that would help me grow in my field. So, I found Anita Borg Systers community and came on board as a full-time, helping many women in tech across the globe but also myself. It’s very rewarding to see other women succeed – those you’ve mentored – and try to move the needle as much as possible. With Anita Borg, I also started with open-source technologies. Then I went on to CMD-IT (Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Information Technology). I got to work with minorities and people with disabilities, which also hit home with me. I must tell you that life opportunities steered me to where I am today.

How have communities (or lack thereof) played a part in your career progression as a student or an early-career professional?

Rose: I graduated from a historically black college and university, and so I saw so many of me in other majors. But it was very different when I came into the corporate world. It was mostly all men. I got to work on many government projects,  so it was a lot of military and intelligence. So, while trying to find something – and I don’t remember how – I found Systers. They were very instrumental when I was trying to get promotions and with how to deal with very uncomfortable situations. So, just having Systers’ email list was very important to me. It helped me navigate through some very tricky times and gain the confidence that I belonged in this field. It’s just been an amazing opportunity for me to join that community.

Farah: For me, it was more that there was always a lack of communities. I desperately wanted to be a part of one with more people like me. When I immigrated here to the US, I didn’t know a lot of women from Pakistan or South Asian women in general. So, part of my founding Pakistani women in Computing was that there just aren’t a lot of communities for support like Rose has talked about: A group of people with a shared history, some shared context where you don’t have to explain yourself every time from scratch. You can jump right into what is troubling you or share an issue without that fear of judgment, and there’s that safety in that. So, the idea of a community has been in my mind for a long time. I wish  I’d had a better network early on. Then, I could have started some of these things earlier. A third area which did help was the employee resource groups at Microsoft. They had a wide range of these communities: if you’re interested in investing or want to know about real estate etc. A bunch of us were really into puzzle hunts in person. I realized, retrospectively, that even joining some of those and meeting like-minded people and doing interesting activities outside of work helped a lot in building confidence and networking. It allowed building more organic relationships; maybe later on, you could go to those people for work-related things. So, don’t underestimate the value of some of these communities, which may not be tech communities or directly work-related but help keep your network more open and diverse. 

Kathleen: I would say that in University, there weren’t communities, or they weren’t very visible because I didn’t really find anything then. This was in the early to middle 1990s, when only a few women were in the computer science department. You knew the other women on at least a nodding basis because you kept seeing the same faces in classes. After college, when I moved to the Seattle area in my early career, the company I first worked at had one other woman developer. She was more towards the end of her career. So, we hung out a bit, but I did meet many women in other non-technical roles in the tech world – HR and design. Through them, I did get involved in some communities.  At that time, in the mid-90s, Digital Eve was a big one in the Seattle area, and they put on a lot of networking events. So, I met a lot of people through that. In the last few years,  I’ve started seeing employee resource groups coming out of the DEI initiatives at companies I’ve been to. So, the previous consulting company I worked at – Affirma in Bellevue, Washington –  had a women’s group and would put on internal webinars towards the DEI space. So, that was a new experience. Then, of course, I’m a part of the OwnTrail Community, which I’ll talk about later.

Nidhi: Like Farah and Kathleen, I didn’t belong to many communities. It started when I was doing my undergrad at an engineering school in India. We were four women in a class of 70. We didn’t even have a girls’ bathroom in my college. We used to go to the men’s bathroom, and the same journey continued when I came to the US as an immigrant for my master’s. Over time I realized that I struggled and hurt with my go-at-alone approach because you can lean on others. That was the genesis of the idea behind SheTO. So, when I was at Hired, I got invited to this intimate dinner of CTOs. I expected to walk into a room full of men because that’s who I always work with. But, to my utter shock, I walked into a room full of 15 other women who were highly accomplished. They were all VPEs, SVPs and CTOs. So, I thought, even when I, who have been in this industry for this long, don’t know of 15 other women,  how can the next generation of women be inspired? So, that’s when I came across one study by Gartner which said that less than nine percent of engineering exec rules are held by women. So, that was the moment when I had an if-not-me-then-who moment. I quit my job to pursue something more meaningful, and I made it my mission to make a dent in this gender gap as much as I possibly could. We were previously called Diversity, and now we’ve rebranded to SheTO. So, that’s how SheTO came about.

Continue to Part 2 to read more about our panelists own initiatives and communities for women.

Empowered by Support: Communities, Connections & Careers – Part 3

Part 1 – Introductions and impact of communities in career

Part 2 – Initiatives and communities for women

We continue with Kathleen’s journey in a startup. Kathleen, please tell us more about OwnTrail, which you were a member of before you joined the team. Now, you’re the VP. So, how did that journey play out?

Kathleen:  I didn’t find a space in social media that felt very comfortable, primarily because of the inauthenticity of how people presented themselves or how you felt you had to present yourself. So I had been following OwnTrail because I knew one of the co-founders, Rebekah Bastian, who has been a speaker in this series. Also, the previous VP of engineering was my former business partner. So, I knew the company and followed what they were doing. I joined the community early on, and the community there is very authentic. The way people share their experiences is genuine. Own Trail – the trail part- is a visual representation of your journey through life. It encompasses your work and personal life; you can share as much as you want, and the trail has milestones. One of the features we built after I joined the company is called Help beacons. You can add this beacon on a milestone on your Trail where you’re looking for support, and the community can come and help you. Sometimes this is a career pivot: people may be looking to get into a data science field who previously have been traditional software engineers.  Sometimes it’s: “I’m setting up a home recording studio, and I need help doing this”. The array of things that people ask for help is quite broad. The community we’ve built so far has just been so great. It doesn’t have the negativity that I felt around other social media sites where they did not bring any joy to my life. So, I have since left them. I’m sure many of us can relate that many social media sites do not spark joy. 

Are there any requirements for joining the OwnTrail community?

Kathleen:  No, not at all. We did start out as a woman-focused site. So, you will find that many of our members are women, but we are open to all genders and all stages of careers and students. Most of our members are mid-career adults looking to make a career pivot or work on their next milestone, but we’re open to anyone. It is free to create an account. The trail Creator is in our free tier, as also the Help beacons and conversations. We have a paid membership option for making more direct connections and private messaging. But anyone can join. 

OwnTrail is a woman-led startup, and we all know a woman-led startup is a challenging adventure to embark on. So how has the journey been so far?

Kathleen: Recently, there was a report that less than two percent of all VC funds in 2022 went to women-led startups, which was down from 2021. Our co-founders, Rebekah (Bastian) and Kt (McBratney) started OwnTrail in February 2020. We immediately went into the pandemic, which made it an interesting time to try to get funding for a startup. Still, we have raised $1.5 million. Rebecca started another Community called Authentech, which she found as she was trying to raise funds from VCs that OwnTrail didn’t fit into – like Fintech or Healthcare. So, she created this community called Authentech which is more value-driven human-centred technology. OwnTrail is currently in the Tech Stars Anywhere Accelerator, which goes through April. That’s exciting, and we got some more funding through that. We’re currently a team of eight employees and hope to grow the engineering team and the rest of the team. So, we’re doing good and excited to grow more.

Nidhi, what are some of your plans to move SheTO forward and make it more financially self-sufficient?

Nidhi: If you think being a woman founder makes it hard to raise funds, try raising funds for a non-profit. That’s a thousand times harder.  One of my goals this year is to make SheTO a self-sustaining organization and begin by establishing partnerships with corporations. Salesforce is actually one of our early partners. So I’m super excited about that. This economy obviously is not the best for these conversations. Still, I never thought I would be a founder, but here I am. I didn’t think I could raise money, but here I am. So, this year’s goal is to raise funds to sustain and invest more in the growth of SheTO. Our approach this year is to monetize some of our programs, e.g. accelerators and workshops,  without taking away the significant value we provide for our community members. 

These are challenging economic times. We hear about layoffs, and maybe tech is no longer the blue-eyed child of the job industry. People are nervous. Rose, what is your advice in this situation?

Rose: Many tech companies are going through a reduction in their workforce and trying to reduce operating costs. Still, this is also an opportunity. Such situations allow me to be more creative and see where to make more impact. So, I consider it as an opportunity rather than something really scary.  With COVID, we have seen that areas such as healthcare and education need the help of technical professionals. There are many problems and issues in smaller communities. In hospitals, nurses and doctors are trying to be ahead of the game this time around because it’s not as if the next pandemic will not happen. It’s just a matter of when. We saw an entire education system go virtual, from grade school K-12 to colleges and universities, which they were not technically prepared for. So there’s so much need for experienced professionals to help solve problems. The US federal government and even state and municipality governments need to digitize. I have been part of this kind of collaboration with civic tech organizations here in DC. Still, all across the country, tech skills are needed. 

We need to understand many different industries go through these [changes] every so often. Everybody’s revamping, and they’re thinking about what’s the next innovation. As a co-founder, it helps me focus on how to make an impact in this world and leave it a better place. 

When I retire, I expect things to be very digital so that I can access everything from my watch, phone and wherever. So, we’re not there yet, so this is an opportunity. I always tell people that when you see a lot of downsizing, there’s also an opportunity to start your own thing. Now is the time if you have an invention or something you’re working on. There’s a lot of money right now, particularly from the federal government and the investors looking for the next big thing. So, we can put our heads together and develop some amazing solutions right in our backyard.

My final and favorite question. What career advice would you give to your younger self today?

Rose: I would let myself know that just lead with life. You’re going to have opportunities. You want to plan, but sometimes the plan doesn’t always go in your favor. You get discombobulated sometimes. But, my life events have led me to incredible opportunities. I’ve had such a fantastic time in tech, and it pushes and energizes me even further. So, lead with life. 

Farah: It’s been such a fun career. There’s so much that you can do in Tech. I would tell my younger self we can do much more together than alone, so don’t be afraid to seek help. Let people know you’re struggling, need support, or want to understand something new – find communities. It doesn’t always have to be in the workplace;  it can be things you enjoy, leading to other opportunities. The more people you know, the more you will feel at ease. Everybody’s similar, and everybody struggles at times. So, that perspective really helps. 

It’s a difficult time for many people, and I want to offer the same encouragement and support.  It feels like doom and gloom, and everything’s falling apart, but just take perspective.  It’s a global macroeconomic trend, affecting not only tech but many other areas. Natural disasters are happening in countries. Other countries have all kinds of political upheaval. People from tech are probably in the best position. They have excellent employability skills. They should be snatched up really quickly. Compared to some of these other things [happening in the world], that perspective really helps. 

Nidhi:  So, plus one to what Farah said, I’ll keep it short. Two things. One – find your tribe and use it. Often we get motivated to find a tribe but never use it. So, in a community, you will get back as much as you give. Two- just be kind to yourself. We’re too hard on ourselves. We want to be perfect, the ideal workers. But it’s not our fault because we got laid off. This, too, shall pass, and you will thrive coming out of this recession.

Kathleen:  I am in an interesting position now, watching my daughter, who is almost 20, and in electrical and computer engineering. So, she’s following a similar path, and I watch how she’s doing things. When I think about how I do things and what she does that I didn’t do in university, I see she has found her tribe. She is not just joining communities but getting into leadership positions in those communities, which would be advice I would give myself.  Especially in my early career, I just fell into leadership roles or leading projects. I would encourage myself to seek it out more actively as a student and in my early career. So, it’s really a great experience watching her. She’s doing a great job.

Thank you so much, Kathleen, Nidhi, Farah and Rose, for spending time with us. 

Empowered by Support: Communities, Connections & Careers – Part 2

Part 1 – Introductions and impact of communities in career

Continuing our discussion, could you talk more about your own initiatives? What are also some other initiatives that are available for free for anyone? Are there any other communities you can recommend to our audience members?

Nidhi: For SheTO,  there’s no membership; it’s free. The way we think about SheTO is two concentric circles. If you identify as a woman or non-binary person in engineering, IT, project management and program management, you are more than welcome to join. You can just go to SheTO.org/joinus. If you’re an individual contributor, you will get invited to our open events, which we typically do once a month or our mentorship program. If you are on the management track, an engineering manager and above, you also get to participate in the slack community and all of our programming such as workshops and accelerator programs. Almost everything is free. I intentionally Incorporated us as a 501c3, and my goal is to help as many women as possible. Some of the accelerator programs and workshops are paid. So, you can tap into your Learning and Development budget. You can take advantage of the plethora of programs that we offer.

In addition to SheTO, many great communities exist, such as Girl Geek and Women in Product. Girl Geek does these dinners and conferences. There are also Lesbians Who Tech that focus a lot on conferences. There are a ton of them out there. So, find your tribe and go hang with them.

Farah: With Pakistani Women in Computing, we run talks throughout the year – tech talks, talks on building your brand, building your self-confidence. We do virtual job fairs every year. So, many companies in North America and Pakistan list their openings with us. You can sign up for one-on-one workshops with other engineers who can help you with coding interviews. We have a workshop on resumes and Linkedin. So, we provide support with a hands-on practical approach. You don’t have to be from Pakistan; you don’t have to be a woman. Anybody can participate for free. All these past events and videos are on YouTube. 

In addition, I can share Above Board for senior women, which is an exclusive platform and community providing access to senior leadership opportunities.

If your goal is to support – you want to give back, you want to be the person to benefit these communities, there are many ways to do that.  You can donate to scholarships such as Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, and Anita Borg. In Pakistan,  you can volunteer with Code Girls Karachi. I’m also working with the national curriculum Council in Pakistan to build the curriculum for K-12 for computer science, which will scale to every public school in Pakistan. So every one of us here can also give back in those ways. There are some fantastic organizations where your dollar goes a long way, and you can help locally or globally.

Kathleen: I mentioned OwnTrail, where I currently work and am also a member. That is open to anyone – you can freely create a trail, ask for help, and participate in conversations. We have a TED Talk-like series called Trail Talks which you can attend or view the recorded ones on our site. Another community that I participate in now is elpha.com, geared towards career development and job-seeking women. It’s more than just a job site, though. There is a lot of discussion on the site, and many “office hours” type of community events where they bring in people to do Q&As from the community. Finally, an organization I just recently learned about is OSTEM, which stands for “out in STEM”. It is towards students and early career professionals in the LBGTQ+ Community who are in STEM fields or working towards STEM degrees. They have a lot of student chapters throughout the country but also professional ones and offer some career development-type of programs.

Could you talk about the power of communities, not only for professional support but also for personal support?

Rose:  In 2018, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wanted to be private about it. I also knew that there was a lot of work that I still needed to do while at Anita Borg and Black Women in Computing. So, I met with my inner circle; four of us are on the Founding Committee of Black Women in Computing. I told them I had been diagnosed with breast cancer on a Zoom call. And we all cried. They asked to get back to me in a week and devised a plan to let the Systers and all the other affinity communities know. They reminded me that gratitude is essential for people who want to help but don’t know how to. So, they reached out to everyone, including all affinity communities worldwide. They got a mailbox for me. I love handwritten letters, and I also love spy novels. So, I had a lot to read during that time, and once I was up to it, I wrote back to everyone who sent me a handwritten letter. It was so comforting to know that you have support like that. Even when I wasn’t going to be able to make it to that Grace Hopper, they made these little note cards. So, I received 1500 plus little note cards that I read daily, whether I was going to treatment or getting ready before another surgery. It was the hardest time. But just to have that kind of support… We talk a lot about tech and how we can support careers, but we also have to support each other as a woman. We go through a lot. We are most likely the ones who care for everybody in the family, but we still have to get up and work. We have no days off. We constantly try to set an example as we represent the only one (of our kind) at work. So, I’m so happy about having that community. 

I have a lot to thank my community for because it’s tough to deal with everything you have to. When COVID hit,  I lost many people in my community, especially my family. After 17, I just stopped counting. So now is the time you should reach out – some of the communities I mentioned earlier – Anita Borg has Systers, Black Women in Computing, CMD-IT

I’m also a Filipina. I was born in the Philippines.  I’m part of Filipina Women in Computing. So, we have these layers of intersectionality. My older sister is blind. I have two nephews who have Muscular Dystrophy and are both wheelchair users. One is autistic. I bring a lot of this to my work and my personal perspective on technology and innovation and have a sustaining impact. 

If you’re at the executive level, there are also Black Women on Boards – a massive initiative to ensure we have voices at the exec table. So there are a lot of initiatives around women, but also, we’re trying to help black women.  We are pleased to share information because we’ve experienced (the lack of) it, and there is no reason why the next generation should ever feel alone. 

We have discussed the role of the community in professional support and personal growth. But I would like your input on the community support to establish yourself as an immigrant. What are some of the unique needs and challenges there?

Farah: If you’re moving countries, if you’re moving context, there’s a lot of learning that has to happen, but there’s also a lot of unlearning. In a stable context, you can fully immerse yourself in your new career and focus on that. You don’t have the luxury of doing that when you’re moving again. Support groups at that time would have been super helpful for me. For example, knowing somebody who could cook food from back home or with who I could share a story about my childhood or talk about sports. Cricket is a sport that many of us in southeast Asia understand, a sport which resonates with us. We play different sports and listen to different music.  We have, as Rose mentioned, intersectionality.  So, that sense of belonging is not there; it’s a very lonely place, and you are also trying to figure out the work situation. At work, in a water cooler conversation, everybody is talking about the football game from last night, and you’re trying your best to fit in, but you can’t. So, it’s very apparent to you that you don’t fit in. Even though you may be killing it at work, not having that support can undermine your self-confidence. That feeling permeates into work. Having some support groups that help you feel more comfortable in your skin would have been very helpful. They can help you figure out that you don’t have to assimilate but can integrate, and you know the difference.  As Rose said, because we went through it, we don’t want anybody else to go through it. We want people to learn from our experience and see how we can pay it forward.

With PWIC, it was the idea that we have all these women coming from these different contexts. Some are born here, and some aren’t. But, in every conversation I’ve had with different people, e.g. a chapter in Pakistan, Europe, and North America, there are underlying threads,  issues, and very similar circumstances. So, if we started talking, we would all find those threads, and there’s something very comforting about having that. 

At work, you’re always the one flying the flag of being the perfect (single) example of your kind. It’s a lot to shoulder. It’s a million tiny paper cuts every day that exhaust you, and you don’t even realize it. Being able to integrate well and having support when you’re going through a family or health crisis or any other personal crisis is vital for your mental health. What I love about our current work environment is the open conversation and recognition of the importance of mental health. Understanding what communities are available for mental health and not just for work is very important.  

Especially for young people who have gone through COVID, it is a very different context – having to start work life remotely. What helped me a lot as an immigrant, who was integrating, was going into the office and finding people of all experience levels willing to share, help, and support. I learned by example. I learned more because I got to interact with people in person. But, unfortunately, I see a whole generation of kids who are not getting that [due to COVID]. 

Continue to Part 3 to read more about women in startups and how to navigate the current tech climate.

Latina Computing Professionals Panel at Tapia 2022!

by Adriana Alvarado Garcia, Karla Badillo-Urquiola, Brianna Posadas, Wendy Roldan

Latina women, historically underrepresented in computing [1], face additional challenges starting their careers. To bring awareness to this issue, we organized the panel “Becoming a Latina Computing Professional: Barriers and Accomplishments” for the 2022 Tapia Conference. We enjoyed reconnecting at Tapia and sharing our lived experiences with current Latinas navigating the job market and the recruiters of future generations of computing professionals. Based on our conversations and collective reflections, we summarize three key takeaways: 

Job Searching as an Interdisciplinary Scholar Takes Persistence 

A key theme in our conversations was navigating the job market as interdisciplinary scholars. Wendy shared how her research on children and families, equity, and design education positioned her well to interview for academic, non-profit, and industry roles, but it also came at a tradeoff. Brianna shared her experience positioning her work in a new space like agriculture. Being on the job market as an interdisciplinary scholar can be tricky, as the candidate can be “too much” or “not enough” of one discipline depending on the institution. It also makes the job search longer, as finding an institution that appreciates and supports an interdisciplinary research agenda takes more discussion and negotiation.   

Career Choices are Informed by Personal Values and Virtues

Navigating the job market during COVID-19 helped illuminate the importance of centering our values and the kind of life we wanted to live. For example, managing the dissertation and the academic job market simultaneously contributed to Karla’s stress-induced illness. She had to prioritize her health and family when choosing the right department. Likewise, when comparing her job options, Wendy faced the challenging position of letting go of her dream to become a professor. Instead, she prioritized her happiness and lifestyle. Growing up in Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, Adriana prioritized large cities over small towns.

Community is the Key to Success 

Our stories demonstrated how critical it is to have a strong support system to learn about the “hidden curriculum” of the job search. We all built a network of peers and mentors who share our identities in the Human-Computer Interaction and Computer Science fields by attending mentoring events such as the CHI-Mentoring workshop (organized since 2010). In addition, the Tapia conference is a prime resource for connecting with other Latino computer scientists. Our mentors advised us through our job search, educated us on the unspoken rules of interviewing, and served as sounding boards as we debated offers. We also asked them questions about aspects of the position that were important to us, but not always covered by recruiters: Is there a strong Latino community? Is there a Spanish-speaking Catholic church? Is there support for spousal hires?

We call on the computing community to create supportive spaces for the underrepresented and to promote transparency in the process of recruiting for academia, industry, and other career paths. We look forward to continuing these discussions in more spaces for other Latina computing professionals to share. We thank Dr. Manuel Perez Quiñones for being our strong ally.  

[1] https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/women/

Get Ready for an Exciting womENcourage 2023, in Norway!

By Alexandra Dediu, ACM-W Europe Communications Chair

womENcourage 2022, Cyprus

womENcourageTM 2022 was held in Larnaca, at the University of Central Lancashire, Cyprus (UCLan Cyprus). The event was attended by internationally recognized speakers, judges and mentors. The attendees were welcomed by the president of ACM, the president of ACM-W and the president of ACM-W Europe, in addition to the local chairs, organisers and supporters.

We hope you enjoyed all the sessions, and in case you missed them, we are waiting for you next year!

womENcourage™ 2023 will take place at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway, on 20-22 September 2023.

The theme of the conference is Computing Connecting Everyone. The general chairs will be professors Kerstin Bach and Letizia Jaccheri. We met the organizing team this year when they attended the event in Larnaca. 

Trondheim is Norway’s capital of technology and history. It was founded in 997 by the Viking King Olav Tryggvason and held a special place in Norwegian history and culture. Today, Trondheim is Norway’s innovation capital with many research, development and innovation activities. 

The conference will be anchored at the Computer Science Department of NTNU. The department has 3000 students and 300 employees across three campuses of which 30% are female.

We are looking forward to meeting you there. Please follow the conference website for updates throughout the year and details for participants.

The 4th Summit on Gender Equality in Computing (GEC’22)

by Alexia Giouroukou

The 4th Summit on Gender Equality in Computing (GEC’22) took place in Thessaloniki on June 16th -17th, 2022. GEC’22 summit was opened with the welcome talks from Efstratios Stylianidis (Vice-Rector for Research and Lifelong Learning of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki) and Panagiota Fatourou (chair of the Greek ACM-W Chapter). The first keynote speaker, Dr Alexandros Triantafyllidis (Professor at the School of Biology AUTh), shared uplifting messages of solidarity and social responsibility to support at-risk researchers based on his involvement in Inspireurope, a Horizon Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action.

The summit continued with the very interesting workshop entitled “Act Together – The Role of H2020 Projects and EU Initiatives & Their Impact on Gender Equality in STEM”, organized and implemented by the EU H2020 programme, so-called “Sister Projects”, with the main subject the presentation of the impact of each EU project on the EU gender equality targets and the settings in which they are addressed. The project’s aim is to form a strong and sharing society by changing the stereotypes and giving equal opportunities.

During the first-day poster session, intriguing flash talks were given by undergraduate, graduate and PhD students, as well as young researchers and professionals of any gender, to disseminate their research work and discuss their ideas with the other GEC participants. The day concluded with a keynote talk and an inspiring discussion with Dr Marily Nika (AR Product Lead at Google and a Fellow at Harvard Business School), who provided a perspective on being a woman in tech and shared her lessons learnt on leveraging AI towards creating value.

The Dean of the Faculty of Sciences of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Prof. Hara Charalambous, opened the curtain of the second day with an inspiring welcome talk. The keynote talk by Prof. Evimaria Terzi (Professor of Computer Science at Boston University) covered and discussed various approaches to creating the “best” team and the open problems in this emerging area with a vibrant Q&A with the audience.

The industrial panel entitled “Career Pathways & Opportunities in Computing” revealed a more sensitive and personal aspect of the event, as it gave the opportunity to acclaimed employees from Pfizer, Accenture, Vodafone, Deloitte Greece and Netcompany-Intrasoft, to share their experiences in the marketplace, how they overcome the
obstacles and difficulties and give valuable advice to younger employees.

The young researchers continued to share their work and innovative ideas and findings during the second poster session. Following the poster session, Dr Antonia Gogoglou (Machine Learning Software Engineer for Meta/Facebook in the USA), gave a very personal keynote speech, where she shared her experiences in both academia and industry as a woman in tech, talked about her personal views on gender equality in the field of Computer Science and the emerging challenges the field faces.

Then it was time for creative and playful experiences! We had the honour to host Dr Hanne-Louise Johannesen (CEO and Co-founder of Diffus Design), who organized an exciting and interactive workshop. Altogether, a visual matrix representing core aspects of GEC’22 was created. The matrix contained combinatory understandings of different technological terms (e.g., AI, ML, HHI, HCI) and key topics (e.g., gender, ethics, community, equality), while the outcome was fascinating.

The workshop “Becoming Better Together – Learning Through Mentoring”, was organized by Prof. Geraldine Fitzpatrick (Professor of Technology Design and Assessment and header of the Human-Computer Interaction Group in the Informatics Faculty at TU Wien Austria) and Prof. Panagiota Fatourou (Université Paris Cité, France & University of Crete and FORTH, Greece). The workshop aimed to inspire a culture of mutual support where Greek academic women, students and young researchers identify and promote each other’s talents and achievements, recognize their strengths and investigate the potential of contributing as mentors to younger peers.

Last but not least, Amalia-Michaela Sotiropoulou (Resourcing Consultant of Vodafone), was excited to present Vodafone’s journey from Telco to Techco and its youth opportunities for employment.

During the 2-day event, five of GEC’22 sponsors (Accenture, Deloitte Greece, Netcompany-Intrasoft, Pfizer and Vodafone) were present in the exhibition/posters area, willing to develop fruitful discussions about their companies’ opportunities with young, promising researchers, while at the same time networking with all the summit’s participants.

The entire event has been recorded and is made available on the Greek ACM-W Chapter’s YouTube channel.
GEC’22 would like to thank its supporters and sponsors, all who contributed to making this event so successful, and of course, its attendees for their participation and enthusiasm!

1st Greek ACM-W Chapter Winter School on Fairness in AI

Starting this year, the Greek ACM-W Chapter, with the support of the ACM Europe Research Visibility working group (ACM Europe RAISE), organizes a series of annual winter schools, on timely computer science related topics. The main goal of the school is to offer the opportunity to young computer science professionals to learn, interact and make a difference.

The inaugural edition of the Greek ACM-W Chapter Winter School (GECSW22) took place online on February 24-25, 2022. Living the revolution of AI, with issues of biased treatments, exclusion, and unfairness being raised, the topic could not be anything else than “Fairness in AI”. Participation was free but limited to facilitate interactions. After the selection process, more than 60 participants from more than 20 countries had the opportunity to be part of the

Introduction to GECSW22

Top scientists from around the world presented their exciting work on the topic in the two-day event. Participants learned, through scientific talks and tutorials, the fundamental theory behind algorithmic fairness, the state-of-the-art in ranking, recommendations, web search, online markets, computer vision & some software tools. Also, they understood the need for a broader, multidisciplinary treatment including police, education, legal, philosophical and societal views.

2 Full Days of Activities

For a more engaging and interactive virtual school, participants were divided into working groups. Each working group (7 people) had to complete a small task (see image). At the end of the conference, the participants presented their work and voted for the best presentation.

Working Group Assignment

The entire event was live-streamed with the help of people from Athena Research Center and has been recorded on the Greek ACM-W Chapter’s YouTube channel. (Respecting the personal data of the students, their presentations have not been recorded)

The full program of the event is still available on the official website of GECSW22.

GECSW22 Agenda

GECSW22 would like to thank its supporters and sponsors, all who contributed to make this event so successful, and of course its attendees for their participation and enthusiasm! Until the next GECSW, see you at the 4th Summit on Gender Equality in Computing by the Greek ACM-W Chapter!

Report on ACM W Winter School for Women on Natural Language Processing


DA-IICT with ACM-W hosted an ACM Winter School on Natural Language Processing during 4 January to 14 January 2021. The 10 days’ winter school was coordinated by Dr. Prasenjit Majumder and had 47 women undergraduate and postgraduate students as participants. Following the norms, it was an online school held via Zoom, a web-based video conferencing tool.

Professors engaged in the research in the NLP domain came forward to share their ideas and conduct sessions. Day 1 started with an introduction of Natural Language Processing, given by Prof. Prasenjit Majumder from DA-IICT, the session continued with Prof. Tathagata Bandyopadhyay from IIMA, demonstrating the requirement of Mathematics in NLP.

On days 2 and 3, Prof. Tanmoy Chakraborty from IIITD, explained Language Modelling and Parsing concepts. Day 4 began with Prof. Mandar Mitra, from ISI Kolkata revealing the notions about Information Retrieval and ended with Prof. Suman Mitra, from DA-IICT describing the role of Word Embeddings.

Machine Translation sessions were taken by Prof. Pushpak Bhattacharyya, from IITB on days 5 and 7. Prof. Prasenjit Majumder discussed the topic of Social Media Analysis. Prof. Sriparna Saha from IIT Patna conducted the session on Information Extraction and Dialogue Management on days 6 and 8. On Day 9, Dr. Parth Mehta discussed Text Summarization.


Apart from the theoretical discussions, each day had a hands-on session on the topic that had been discussed in the school. Participants were provided with materials as well as with the assignments that they had to submit. Day 10, was wrapped up with three projects and a short quiz. The projects and assignments were given to the participants to demonstrate the application of NLP and to give them in-depth clarity about the theoretical aspects that they had learned in the school.

Virtual ACM Celebrations of Women in Computing

It has been a whole year since the pandemic suddenly changed our lives. Uncertainty has been the major obstacle hindering us from making plans. We never lost our hopes for a brighter future and the additional responsibilities that came with the pandemic kept us busier than ever. Vaccinations starting around the globe are helping to keep our hopes at the same level. All activities requiring mobility either turned out to be organized online or postponed to an unknown date. It looks like the war against COVID19 is going to continue. Until everybody feels safe, online events will continue. For those who have not lost their hopes but would like to stay on the safe side we want to share our suggestions for virtual celebrations. 

Although it is not like in-person events there are advantages of virtual events like capacity, cost, and flexibility. ACM-W may schedule Zoom Meeting and Webinar platforms as the schedule permits.

If you are in one of the ACM-W regions, notice that each region has specific instructions besides the one included in this document. Make sure to check that information in your region’s website, which includes contact persons. As of March 2021 ACM-W Regional Committees are Asia Pacific, Europe, India and  North America. For celebrations organized from these regions applications will be made as explained on the website. Applications from other regions will be evaluated by ACM-W Regional Activities team. 

If you are planning to organize a virtual ACM Celebration of Women in Computing please check with your regional ACM-W celebrations committee and get prepared to answer the questions in their application form. For each celebration a page will be reserved on the related ACM-W website. The celebration organizers choose the official language(s) of the celebration to reach out to more participants.

For applications to ACM-W Regional Activities Team use the Virtual Celebration Application Form and submit at least 3 months before the proposed celebration date. In order to complete this form you will need to have to indicate total expected expenses in US Dollars and explain the major expense items. You can find a template for preparing a budget for your virtual celebration here.

Approval process and sharing the results will take no longer than two weeks.  Please contact ACM-W Regional Activities Chair in case you do not hear at the end of two weeks.

Minimum requirements for an event to be funded (please note that if you do not comply with these requirements, funding will not be granted):

  • The event must be at least one day in length (preferably two half days)
  • The event must be branded as an “ACM Celebration of Women in Computing” event in the event’s title or as a subtitle.  
  • Registrants must be drawn from several chapters, institutions, regions. The number of registrants is an important information for evaluating the application. 
  • Events should loosely follow the Celebration model; keynotes, panel sessions, speakers, student presentations, poster sessions, hackathon, career fair etc. 
  • A summary of the event suitable for inclusion in ACM-W media channels must be provided at the end of the event to ACM-W Communications Chair, who can be found on ACM-W Contact Information page.

An Interview with Bushra Anjum, ACM-W Standing Committees Co-Chair

What is your vision for the new ACM-W webinar series “Celebrating Technology Leaders”?

Some of ACM-W’s most successful events and panels in the past (chapters, celebrations, etc.) were focused on career advice, especially non-academic careers (industry, research labs, government, non-profit, etc.). However, the unfortunate outbreak of COVID-19 has halted such meaningful events. Furthermore, stories and survey responses from our members tell us that younger professionals want to hear from people with non-traditional career routes, moving between research labs, academia, industry, government, or non-profits. These needs became the motivating factor as I proposed a new initiative to the ACM-W global leadership, a web series “Celebrating Technology Leaders.” The idea is to bring stories and advice from engaging speakers, with diverse careers in computing, directly to our global audience. I am truly grateful that my proposal received approval and support not only from the ACM-W leadership but also from the ACM Education and Professional Development, and ACM Marketing. I would also like to acknowledge our partners CRA-WP and NCWIT, who recently came on board to help spread the word and increase the efficacy and reach of this ACM-W initiative.

It is my privilege to drive this project and serve as a host for Celebrating Technology Leaders.

Session 1: The bond between academia and industry

What will the attendees gain by attending the Celebrating Technology Leaders sessions? 

We have designed the series so students and early career professionals can expand their horizons, learn about the multitude of career options available, and make informed choices about the next step in their professional journeys. At the same time, staying true to the ACM-W mission, we aim to celebrate women in computing. Thus in each episode, I invite women in computing who have excelled in their careers for an online panel discussion. We feature panelists from all career levels in research, industry, government, and non-profits. During the one hour conversation, we highlight their journeys, share inspiring stories, and learn what it takes to succeed in their career of choice.  

While choosing our panelists, we emphasize the diversity of backgrounds and experiences of the panelists so that our discussion is applicable and relatable to a wide variety of listeners. The series is geared towards students and early-career professionals, and we’re hoping to provide valuable experiences for anyone considering switching their career path in a technical direction. For example, our earliest panels have discussed the bond between academia and industry (Session 1), experiences in entrepreneurship (Session 2), opportunities in the growing world of User Experience / User Interfaces (Session 3), and most recently, the career opportunities in Data (Session 4).

Session 3: Growing opportunities in the world of UI/UX

Where can we find more information on Celebrating Technology Leaders, and the future sessions?

The series is free and open for public viewership. We organize one session every 6 to 8 weeks. Each session features a 45-minute discussion followed by a 15-minute interactive Q&A session. You can view our past sessions on YouTube.

Additional details can be found on our webpage. We will also be announcing our future sessions.

If you have any suggestions on topics and speakers, please do reach out to me at https://www.bushraanjum.info/contact

Bushra Anjum, ACM-W Standing Committees Co-Chair