The Technical Torch: Preparing to Run the Earth Race
Can a female succeed in a technological career? Would it be fun and exciting?
I was delighted when I learned I would be inducted into the WITI hall of fame earlier this year. What an honor to be in the company of so many accomplished and intelligent women!
While at the ceremony, I was inspired by the passion and knowledge of so many of the people I met there. As I listened to them speak about their goals and achievements in research and technology, it was clear that I was surrounded by women who are making a difference in the technical community and using technology to change the world. I don’t believe they could have chosen a better time to do so.
A little over forty years ago, the world was buzzing about which country would be the first to land on the moon….and all the news talk was about “The Moon Race”. But today—as we approach a worldwide resource shortage and face mounting environmental hazards and challenges, we are truly running The Earth Race. We must race against time and ourselves to make our world smarter and more sustainable.
As vice president of Big Green Innovations at IBM, I focus on finding new ways to apply technology to solve environmental issues. For example, it is imperative that we come up with new methods for purifying and managing water so we can make use of the vast water supplies on the planet that are currently unusable or underutilized. And in developing nations such as India and Africa, we must nurture growth in ways that are sustainable, planning for the long term, not just for today or tomorrow. There are literally thousands of issues that need to be addressed, and we are the people who can create the solutions to these massive problems!
Throughout history, women have proven to be among the best problem-solvers and inventors. In 1905, when Mary Anderson had trouble driving in the rain, she invented the windshield wiper. And when Bette Nesmith Graham had trouble correcting mistakes made by her typewriter, she invented liquid paper. The same holds true for the women who invented fabric dye, computer compilers and disposable diapers—and for the woman who discovered radioactive elements.
As women, we’ve come far in the scientific disciplines. Decades ago, a woman invented the windshield wiper, and today, women help put astronauts into outerspace—and sometimes go there themselves! Every day, we see evidence of what we can achieve in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, especially because we are a part of the WITI organization, which thrives on our successes. As we look ahead we must encourage the younger generation to set their sights just as high and achieve just as much as we have.
This summer, IBM collaborated with Seventeen magazine to take on a “Dream Job Intern” in our research facilities. The intern, Ghislaine Tembiwe, from Cameroon, reminded many female researchers that our presence is needed in the lives of young women to show them their potential in scientific careers. We can never underestimate the value of being a mentor to other women—whether they’re already colleagues or just starting the path to becoming an engineer. Because of the women who mentored Ghislaine this summer, she is now able to see herself in our shoes years from now, and we need to give opportunities like this to more students.
In 2008, only 18 percent of all technical degrees were claimed by women, a 20 percent shortfall from the graduating class of 1985. And, in high school, females only accounted for 17 percent of advanced placement computer science exam-takers. Perhaps it’s the vision of a wild-haired Einstein and the pre-conceived notions about what opportunities are available to women that produce these statistics. Or, maybe the fundamental question still looms: Can a female succeed in a technological career? Would it be fun and exciting?
The only way to answer these questions completely— in order to reach would-be female scientists—is to show our faces. We must defy stereotypes and be living proof that success is possible in a scientific career—no matter if you are a man or a woman. By getting involved in our communities and local schools, we have the potential to change the face of science and technology in years to come.
As part of an organization like WITI, we have a responsibility to mentor and encourage young women to help us to create solutions to some of the world’s greatest problems as employees or as women business owners. We can empower them to help us run—and win—this Earth Race.
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