A strong network for women technologists

It all started with a simple email list. More than three decades ago, a couple of young women technologists laid the foundation for a global movement to support, mentor and encourage women in tech. On today’s International Women’s Day, let’s have a closer look at the distance they have come – and still have to go.
Four women in office looking at computer
A simple email list has grown into a strong international community

In 1987, Dr. Anita Borg and twelve other women from the computing industry joined forces at a renowned academic conference on operating systems in Austin, Texas. Driven by the underrepresentation of women at the conference, this small group of women technologists co-founded the Systers network.

Led by computer scientist Borg, Systers started out as an electronic mailing list meant to connect and support women technologists in their research and development. More than 30 years later, this email list has grown into a strong international community that connects, supports and mentors women from over 70 countries in honor of Borg’s legacy.

The Founding Mother

Anita Borg Naffz was born in 1949 and grew up in Illinois, Hawaii and Washington. Although a math enthusiast, she first started her career working for a small insurance company. Borg taught herself how to program and landed her first programming job in 1969. At age 31, she was awarded a PhD in Computer Science by New York University for her groundbreaking research on the synchronization efficiency of operating systems. Borg went on to work for numerous tech companies throughout the United States.

It was her administrative work for the Systers community that eventually inspired her to develop a communication and information system called MECCA while working at Digitals Network Systems Laboratory in Palo Alto, California. Similar to our modern-day internet forums, MECCA provided automatic administration of membership-based virtual communities and allowed members to opt in and out of topics according to their interests.

The Fight for Representation

While continuously advancing her own career in the computing field, Borg passionately advocated for a higher representation of women in technology, striving for the ambitious goal of 50% by 2020. She strongly believed that women need to play a crucial role in shaping the future of technology.

“Around the world, women are not full partners in driving the creation of new technology that will define their lives. This is not good for women and not good for the world….Women need to assume their rightful place at the table creating the technology of the future.”
- Dr. Anita Borg[1]

In 1997, Borg founded the Institute for Women and Technology (IWT) to help build the pipeline of women technologists and ensure that women’s voices are being heard.

Throughout her career, Borg received numerous awards, including the Augusta Ada Lovelace Award from the Association of Women in Computing (1995), the Forbes Executive Women’s Summit Award for Outstanding Achievement (1999), and an honorary doctorate in science and technology from Carnegie Mellon University in 2002. In recognition of her continuous efforts, Borg was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame in 1998. 

After she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1999, Borg appointed her close friend Dr. Telle Whitney as interim CEO of IWT.  After Borg’s death in 2003, the IWT was renamed Anita Borg Institute in her honor. 

A Legacy of Empowerment

With an estimated representation of 30% of women in the tech sector, Borg’s goal has yet to be reached. She left behind a powerful network of resources and opportunities for women to continue their quest.

What started out decades ago as a simple email list is now a strong and thriving global network of women technologists that supports individuals, organizations and academics envisioning “a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for whom they build it.”

On this International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate all these powerful women out there – in and outside of technology!

If you feel like starting something big, too, why don’t you sign up for a mail.com account for your professional email communication?

Images: 1&1/Shutterstock

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