Anita Borg receives the Heinz Award for Technology, the Economy and Employment for her tireless, tenacious, visionary and inspirational role in attracting women to the computer industry, and for creating and sustaining innovative programs for women in computer science.
Anita Borg's example of mixing technical excellence and fearless vision has interested, inspired, motivated and moved women of all ages, from teenagers to septuagenarians, to embrace technology instead of fearing or ignoring it. She has touched and changed the lives of countless women in the computing fields and beyond. She is responsible for including women in the technological revolution - not as bystanders, but as active participants and leaders.
Anita Borg didn't find her way to a computer keyboard until she was in her mid-20s - and even then it was the result of boredom with a dead-end job and pure happenstance. Still, she turned out to be a natural. After receiving a Ph.D. in computer science from New York University in 1981, she embarked on what was to become a brilliant research career for some of the new industry's commercial giants.
During the 1970s and early '80s, the situation for women in technology was grim. There were only a handful of female professors and graduate students, and few undergraduates were entering the ranks. And, as bad as the academic situation was, industry was much worse.
Dr. Borg's brilliant success in breaking through the "silicon ceiling" was an exception that proved the rule. One day, attending a major industry seminar, she looked around and realized that there were only a handful of women in the room. She pulled that small group together and started Systers, an e-mail list and information-sharing network that now provides mentors, support, encouragement, contacts and ideas via the Internet to more than 2,500 women in 38 states and foreign countries.
In 1994, Dr. Borg co-convened the first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Named in honor of a World War II computer pioneer, that first conference was attended by almost every notable woman in the field from all over the world - admittedly a small group.The fourth Grace Hopper Celebration will be held in October in Vancouver, with several hundred women attending.
Dr. Borg feels that, by presenting the major purpose of computer technology as solving straightforward technical challenges, we have lost the interest of many brilliant technical minds - often female - because their interest lies more in solving real problems than in creating technology for technology's sake.
In 1997, Dr. Borg left the industry to found and lead the Institute for Women and Technology (IWT). In addition to assuming responsibility for a number of existing programs - including Systers and the Grace Hopper Celebrations - IWT is an experimental research and development organization focused on increasing the impact of women on technology, as well as enhancing the positive impact of technology on women around the world.
Today, women are still in the minority in the technology community, but the tide is beginning to turn. Women are contributing key technologies, starting companies, becoming full university professors, and training and hiring the next generation of graduate students. By promoting excellence and equality in every aspect of computer technology, Anita Borg has played a pivotal role not only in the dramatic turnaround of the numbers, but in the nature and focus of technology creation itself.
Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.
Anita Borg passed away on April 6, 2003.
HONORS SINCE HER DEATH
September 2003 - The Institute for Women and Technology holds a fundraiser gala to honor the life and work of Borg. At the event, the institute is officially renamed the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and several awards and scholarships that were created in her memory are awarded. - Electronic Engineering Times
UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD
October 2002 - The Institute for Women and Technology holds its 4th annual Grace Hopper Celebration, which was founded by Borg. The conference "celebrates those who are creating, improving, researching, and studying computer-related technologies and sciences," and the theme at this years gathering was "the ubiquity of the impact of computing on our daily lives and the ubiquity of the impact women are making on this technical force." - Canada NewsWire
Speech3/12/2002 - Acceptance Speech
I would like to thank the Heinz Foundation for recognizing with this award that the development of the technology for the future must have positive social and human impacts. In the near future, technology will affect everything: our economic, political, social and personal lives. Will technology be used to help solve problems of energy, food, water and clean air? Control disease? Nurture our children? Care for our elderly and disability? Will technology be used to increase literacy, particularly among women? Will it enable a fair global economy? Will we live in peace? Will it be used to solve the problems or create the futures that women want? Thank you to Teresa and the Foundation for helping those who ask those questions.
Around the world, women are not full partners in driving the creation of the new technology that will define their lives. This is not good for women and not good for the world. The involvement of women can bring important perspectives and directions to the technology of the future. Women must have dramatically higher representation in technical fields. But bringing women into the existing system as technologists is not sufficient. All sorts of women - technical and non-technical, rich and poor, from the developed, developing, and underdeveloped worlds, must define the technology of the future. The system that creates the technology of the future must change to include all of these women, as women, not just as faceless technologists.
And now a few thanks. Thank you Teresa. When you called me, I was completely flabbergasted. I am sure you remember that I cried and laughed at the same time. Thanks to the Heinz Family Foundation and thanks to the judges and nominators.
I have a few personal thanks. First, I'd like to thank my family of rebels. Dad showed us that we could choose our own paths and try wild things. I am sorry that he could not see this - he would have been very proud of his revolutionary daughter. Thanks to my Mother and my sister, Beverly and Lee Naffz who are here and share their own fantastic lives with me. Then to two dear friends who are here - Gerald Belpaire, my rebellious thesis advisor, and Caroline Kearney who with me was part of a wonderful group in the 80's learning about politics and feminism. Telle Whitney has been my co-conspirator creating the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing and making sure that it has a disco! Finally, there is my husband, Winfried Wilcke, a great scientist and friend, who, at the age of 50, completely swept me off my feet.
I want to take a few words to honor all of the women who are now working in computer science and technology as programmers or researchers or systems developers, building the future in the way that they think it should be built. It is often difficult to continue in spite of the fact that their environments may not be supportive. To any women who has stuck with her ideas, believing that there are different ways to do it, thank you for sticking with it!
Finally, thank you to the people, women and men, who share and support the passion and vision at the Institute for Women and Technology. We can change the world!