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Enterprise Tech: Anita Borg Opens Local Organizations

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October 20, 2015-

By Alison Diana

On the day the Grace Hopper Celebration welcomed 12,000 attendees – primarily young women – to Houston, the Anita Borg Institute introduced a local initiative – and a group of employees from a Texas business came to learn how its grassroots group for female engineers could blossom.

The Anita Borg Institute (ABI) unveiled the launch of ABI.Local to help local communities support female technologists in the areas in which they work and live.

Guided by ABI and funded by Google and an anonymous donor, ABI.Local mirrors ABI’s national work, Telle Whitney, CEO of ABI, told a handful of media. As ABI grew, as the focus on diversity in technology grew, women in regions around the world sought ongoing ways to network, mentor each other, and support their technology careers, she said.

“ABI.Local is created by local communities, led by women locally, and [the] content is for them,” said Telle.

Although many regional groups support women, the ability to partner with ABI immediately brings name recognition and resources such as guest speakers and access to other tools, said members of ABI.Local chapters.

“It has a name, it has a presence,” said Sinead Strain of Goldman Sachs and ABI.New York, who helped organize Grace Hopper Conference 1 earlier this year in Manhattan. “It has a goal and it has a brand of ABI. We really are encouraging female technologists.”

Added Sheila Tejada of ABI.Los Angeles and a member of the University of California faculty: “As ABI, they already have a good rapport with the other companies. ABI already has these kinds of connections.”

ABI.Local launched a presence in 10 cities this month. They include: New York; Delhi, India; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Austin, Texas; Los Angeles; Silicon Valley; Chicago; Houston, and London. ABI plans to expand over the next two years across the United States, India, Africa, the Middle East, Singapore, and other international regions.

To kickstart the launch, 13 viewing parties – including one for ABI.Los Angeles – are expected to begin this week to correspond with the Grace Hopper Celebration. About 2,000 people are expected to attend.

“It has never been more important to have communities like ABI.Local that connect and support women technologists locally and globally. This sense of community is critical to breaking down the barriers – feelings of isolation, unconscious biases, and a lack of visible role models – that keep women from staying in technical careers,” said Nancy Lee, president of People Operations at Google, in a statement.

That’s exactly what several female engineers, data scientists, and programmers at PROS had in mind when they founded the Blaze Committee Women’s Network, a support system at PROS for women in technology, said Jennifer Plummer, senior software engineer and one of Blaze’s founders.

“We wanted to get women here from the organization so they could help get to the next step,” she said.

Members, for example, read and discussed Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and the group will host a networking event at GHC this week. In addition, Blaze members helped Data Scientist Ezghi Eren with her proposal and presentation – “Optimization and Big Data: An Application from Car Rental Pricing” – at GHC, Eren said.

About 100 individuals receive the group’s email but “it gets forwarded out and forwarded out,” said Plummer. “There are men on there too, and men attend, too.”

Company Chief Operating Officer Blair Crump sponsors the initiative, she said. In addition to attending events like Grace Hopper, Blaze hosted Isis Anchalee as their guest at the conference. Anchalee, a self-taught San Francisco software engineer started the #ILookLikeAnEngineer hashtag phenomenon, and planned to discuss her instant celebrity during PROS networking event.

Previously planning to follow in her family members’ footsteps and enter into a medical career, Anchalee found like-minded people when she moved to Berkeley for university, she told EnterpriseTech. She suddenly realized there was a career in writing code and effecting change from her keyboard. Lack of exposure to technology had not shown this as an option, despite having taught herself to code while eight years old, said Anchalee.

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