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Creating Change for Underrepresented Minorities in Technology: Latinas in Computing

Last month, ABI published a report on underrepresented minorities in technical positions in the high-tech industry. African-American, Hispanic, and Native American women in technology are critically absent from high-level positions in technology.

Last month, ABI published a report
on underrepresented minorities in technical positions
in the high-tech industry. African-American, Hispanic, and Native American women in technology are critically absent from high-level positions in technology. In our sample, the proportion of African-American technical women goes from 4.6% at the entry level to 1.6% at the high level, and the proportion of Hispanic/Latina women goes from 4.1% at the entry level to 0% at the high level.

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Minority women thus suffer from a double dose of underrepresentation in technology due to gender and race. This leads to significant barriers to their retention and advancement in the field: isolation, lack of role models, and lack of access to mentors are especially problematic.

 

In our next two blog posts, we will be featuring groups and organizations that are working to create change for underrepresented minorities in technology. One such group is Latinas in Computing (LiC).

 

On Wednesday, I met with LiC Co-Founder Dr. Gilda Garreton, Senior Staff Engineer at Sun Microsystems Laboratories (you can see Gilda’s blog on all things computing,mentoring,and family at http://blogs.sun.com/gilda/).
Gilda is a force in the computing community.  Originally from Chile, she earned her doctorate at the Swiss Institute of Technology and has been with Sun Microsystems for the past five years, researching on VLSI CAD.

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Gilda is outspoken about the barriers experienced by Latina technologists: “There are very few Latinas in technical roles. People in the tech industry sometimes have a predefined notion based on their experience outside the working environment, and therefore there is a tendency of assuming Latinas can’t be technologists, especially in advanced fields, research, and leadership positions. This is a perception that Lic is working to change. Also, Latinas experience significant work-family challenges because of cultural expectations around family responsibilities. Fortunately, Sun Microsystems Labs has been fantastic about flexibility.”

 

Gilda co-founded Latinas in Computing in 2006 with Drs. Cecilia Aragon and Dilma DaSilva. Dr. Cecilia Aragon, Staff Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, is well-known for her research on visual interfaces and human-computer interaction. She was recently named one of the Top 25 Women of 2009 by Hispanic Business Magazine. Dr.
Dilma DaSilva
is a Research Staff Member at IBM TJ Watson Research Center, where she leads the Advanced Operating Systems team. Before joining IBM, Dilma was a Professor at University of Sao Paolo, Brazil.

 

At the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in 2006, the three met and organized a “Birds-of-a-Feather” session for Latinas in Engineering – the energy and enthusiasm of the participants led to the realization that that there was a clear need for a community dedicated to technical Hispanic/Latina women.  Since then, LiC has gone up to over 100 members from around the world – the group has a listserve, a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn. Group members will feature 7 papers and presentations at the 2009 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, with topics ranging from mentoring, motherhood, community empowerment through technology, and knowledge bases for biological research.   

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LiC has also formed formal partnerships with like-minded organizations, such as CAHSI,a consortium of universities dedicated to increasing enrollment and graduation of Hispanic and Latino students in Computing, and MentorNet,
the e-mentoring network for diversity in engineering and science.

 

Dr. Garreton says that the impact of LiC is so far twofold. First, students use LiC to break their feelings of isolation, express their concerns, and get mentoring. At the senior level, members talk about the glass ceiling around gender and race, and support each other’s efforts in career advancement. One of the most significant outcome is for the participants to realize that they are not alone in their experiences.

 

Efforts such as LiC are critical to increasing the representation of Hispanic/Latina women in computer science and engineering. If you have participated or know of other successful programs for underrepresented minorities in science and engineering, please share them here!

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