When the Anita Borg Institute announced a launch party for its new Seattle chapter, it took only 36 hours for people to claim all 300 seats available. The sold-out event is taking place Tuesday night at the Seattle offices of Google, which is covering most of the costs for the shindig.
Since its founding in 1994, ABI has been a leading resource for women in technology. Each year it hosts the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women In Computing Conference, the world’s largest tech event for women.
And two years ago, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based institute began opening local chapters to support women in tech jobs in their own communities. New York, Silicon Valley, Austin and London were a part of the first wave of local ABI organizations. This year the group is focused on launches in Seattle, Portland, Tokyo and Amsterdam, which will bring the number of local chapters to nearly 20.
“This community, the tech community in Seattle, has been growing so rapidly and there are people coming in from outside and this is a way for them to feel connected,” said Lynann Bradbury, one of the volunteers helping with the creation of ABI.Seattle and a senior marketing strategist involved in Seattle tech for more than 20 years.
There are already a number of Seattle-area groups operating in this sphere, including Women in Tech, Ladies in Seattle Tech and GeekGirlCon, as well as Seattle chapters of Women Who Code, Girl Develop It and Geek Girls Carrots.
Bradbury said the intention is not to muscle in on the current scene.
“We’re not here to reinvent the wheel, we’re here to reinforce the wheel,” she said. The goal is “supporting women through their entire career paths and in all facets of tech. That continuum is different from other organizations.”
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And maybe it will take a multitude of organizations and institutes to reverse the decades’ long slide toward increasing inequality between women and men in STEM careers.
In ’95, roughly 31 percent of computer and mathematics jobs nationwide were held by women. Ten years later, that number dropped to 27.5 percent. Last year the fraction of women in these jobs hit 25 percent, according to a GeekWire analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“A lot of work and communication has been done, but we’re really far away from bridging the gender gap,” said Sheila Oh, the volunteer lead for the local ABI chapter and director of the Computer Science Fundamentals Certificate Program at Seattle University.
“The awareness is there,” she said, “the action needs to take place.”
Sara Adineh, tech lead for the local chapter of Women Who Code and a software engineer at Zulily, the Seattle-based online retailer, said she looks forward to the opportunity to partner with ABI.Seattle.
“We feel that there has been a lot of attention to having more diversity in tech,” she said. “There has been information for girls at school or in the college level, but there is a gap between the people doing computer science in the past and leaving [the field].”
Martina Welkhoff is board president for Women in Tech and co-founder and CEO of Zealyst, an enterprise platform using data analysis and games to build stronger corporate communities. She, too, is eager for her organization to work with ABI.
We’re “very excited about the ABI presence in Seattle, as our efforts have been hyper local,” said Welkhoff, who will be speaking at tonight’s launch event. “ABI is a great chance to connect to a global movement.”
Women in technology, particularly those who have worked in the sector for many years, seemingly all can recount times when they were the only woman in the room during work meetings and other professional events.
“We provide an alternative to that, and a place where women can share stories and have a commonality… that might not be present in other parts of their life,” Welkhoff said.
In the male-dominated tech field, the groups provide access to internships, networking opportunities, the chance to polish technical interview skills, mentoring, leadership training, programming workshops and avenues for giving back to other women in the tech community.
And organizers of the groups emphasize that men are encouraged to participate in their organizations and events as well.
“There is a heightening awareness of the business imperative, that it really strengthens companies to have a diverse work force,” Welkhoff said. Business leaders are beginning to more fully appreciate that the need is tied to the financial bottom line, and not only issues of fairness and equality.
“There is real momentum and palpable energy about increasing inclusion in technology,” Welkhoff said. The creation of the ABI chapter is one more reason “to be optimistic in Seattle.”