Top Women in Tech – Backstage at Anita Borg Institute Vision Awards

05.08.09 | Category: Breaking News, Power Zen, Simplicity, Valley Future, Zen Law

Drue Kataoka,  Bill Fenwick at Women in Tech Awards
Who are the most influential women in technology for 2009? You had to be with ValleyZen in the Fairmont San Jose last Thursday to be able not only to see but to experience the answer.

Women have gone a long way in tech, and the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology’s Women of Vision’s Award celebration and dinner presented ample evidence of the distances women have traveled. The event was beautifully emceed by CBS News Anchor, Sydnie Kohara with inspirational opening remarks by Telle Whitney, President & CEO of the Institute. The 2009 Women of Vision Awards honored three women who have made significant contributions to technology through outstanding innovation, leadership, and social Impact.


ValleyZen got full access to these inspirational women and the ambitious event. We interviewed the keynote speaker and the award recipients and spoke to numerous other accomplished women in technology, from companies ranging from Cisco, HP, Google, Lockheed Martin, Cisco, Symantec, Adobe, Google, Intuit, and many more.

The diversity of talents and accomplishments was dazzling.

One on One with Cisco CTO

Before the event, we had the opportunity to interview Padmasree Warrior, the CTO of Cisco, a true pioneer in the Anita Borg traditions. She graduated at the top of her class at IIT-New Delhi, a legendary hyper-competitive and overwhelmingly male engineering school. Then she was the first female executive at Motorola, eventually climbing to the position of CTO. Currently, she is the CTO of Cisco, one of the Valley’s giants. What a groundbreaking journey!

CTO Warrior Shares Her Secret Sauce

Many have seen Padmasree as a public speaker, energizing and inspiring audiences with her insights and stories. But Padmasree is also very personable and magnetic face-to-face. Unlike some other amazing technologists who sometimes can only communicate in ASCII, she is very polished, well-spoken and a charismatic leader. Our conversation covered topics as diverse as art, tech, leading through example, hard work, and her hobby of cooking (yes, the uber-technologist also likes to cook. The catch? While she is a great cook, she is simply unable to follow a recipe. Something worth thinking about). She is a master of working with spices. Now we have some insights into Cisco’s Secret Sauce!! Interestingly, Padmasree has a long-lasting interest in sculpture (in her words, she is a “closet artist”). She had a great response to ValleyZen’s question about the importance of “negative space” in a CTO’s work. Negative space, or the space between the brush strokes in art, the silence between the notes in music, what gets left out in literature, is a key concept in the arts that defines the realm of possibilities and imagination. It is also a key intersection of Western art with Zen. Padmasree’s commentary on negative space in engineering work was that what gets left out from the product pipeline is as definitive about the company’s identity and future as what gets included.

After interviewing Padmasree Warrior, ValleyZen did a blitz three-on-two session with this year’s three award recipients.
Drue Kataoka,  Bill Fenwick at Women in Tech Awards

Trapeze Flying Mozilla Chairman Mitchell Baker

The Leadership Award recipient was Mitchell Baker, Chairman of the Mozilla Foundation, who is the chief business/organizational brain behind the Firefox browser. Mitchell who keeps in top shape on challenging apparatus –the flying trapeze, grew up as a young person around her family’s pewter foundry, and applied her legal problem-solving and organizational skills to co-found and nurture the collaborative magic that is Firefox. A Berkeley Asian Studies major, she has some profound reflections on Asian philosophy and technology. She was (and continues to be) instrumental in materializing the dream of all geeks for an open, inclusive and free Internet experience. And yes, even such an incredibly accomplished woman like Mitchell believes in the role of coincidences and luck in life. (Did we mention that by a stroke of luck Mitchell started her career in the Valley at Fenwick & West?)

Yuqung Gao on Women’s advantanges in Tech

Yuqing Gao, the second Anita Borg award recipient, is a Senior Manager at IBM where she was instrumental in developing voice-to-voice machine translation technologies used, among many other places in Iraq and Afghanistan to facilitate contact with the locals. She shared with ValleyZen that she believes women in technology have an advantage over men because they have greater attention to detail and work out all of the possibilities in a complex technology. Take that, Bill Gates!

Jan Cuny – Living Obama’s Mission for Tech Education

Jan Cuny, recipient of the Social Impact Award, is Program Director of the National Science Foundation. Her pioneering work in advancing science education for young girls and boys earned her the Anita Borg Social Impact Award. Cuny is a passionate voice for women and under-represented minorities at the National Science Foundation where she helped found BPC (Broadening Participation in Computing Program). In addition, she shared with ValleyZen that she adopted three mixed-race children (4, 1 ½ and 7 years old) and she is a guardian for twelve other kids in the foster care program. This experience broadened her perspective, and no doubt inspired her to look for new ways to bring technology to young people. Her work is a part of Barack Obama’s initiative to improve science and education in America.

Equally exciting were the many conversations on the sidelines with other highly accomplished women (and a few men) in technology. No doubt, some of them will be future recipients of the Women in Technology Leadership Awards. While the spotlight was on Padmasree and the three recipients, all of the hundreds of highly accomplished women were celebrated. ValleyZen had the opportunity to meet some women-students in science and tech fields who attended the event. These young women from Stanford, UC Davis and other schools shared their excitement and inspiration from attending this unforgettable evening.

At the end of the evening, we realized with amusement that we had witnessed a super-accelerated reenactment of the long and amazing journey of women in technology. The evening started with ValleyZen interviewing a handful of highly accomplished pioneers, then the event evolved into a cocktail reception where the core group was joined by a hundred or so women-VIPs, movers and shakers in tech in their own right, and eventually culminated into the presentation ceremony where over a thousand talented women celebrated female leadership in technology. Stay tuned, the Anita Borg Foundation is just getting started in its amazing mission!

Applause for the ABI

No amount of applause is too small for The Anita Borg Institute. Chairman of the Board William Wulf, their CEO Dr. Telle Whitney, Director of Research Dr. Caroline Simard and Director of Marketing Jerri Barrett moved seamlessly and passionately as one. We know that some of the ABI team have incredible daughters. We can only imagine how they will change the new world in decades from now.

Padmasree Warrior, the CTO of Cisco gives the stirring keynote speech

Padmasree Warrior, Cisco CTO Extraordinaire with Drue and Bill for ValleyZen

Winfried Wilcke, husband of Anita Borg gave insightful remarks about Women in tech

Backstage interviewing the award recipients– Jerri Barret with Jan Cuny, Yuqing Gao and Mitchell Baker

A super-charged room

Casey Dunn and Mitchell Baker with Drue

Identity Woman Unconference Guru Kaliya Hamlin, Blogher Co-Founder Elisa Camahort Page and Drue Kataoka

Brendan Eich –Creator of JavaScript and CTO at the Mozilla Corporation meets ValleyZen!!

9 Comments so far

  1. Francine hardaway

    I’ve heard the Cisco CTO speak, and I found her very inspiring about what Cisco is doing in the workplace to make it palatable for Millenials. They seem to be way ahead of the curve. I know Padmasree deserve that award!

  2. Vlasta Diamant

    The achievements of the featured women are formidable, especially, regarding they had to prove themselves against the man-standard of success: toughness, ruthlessness and hard work. Incidentally, the current “Celebrity Apprentice” clearly illustrates this point – final face-off between Amy, the poker queen, against Joan Rivers, the more humane, queen of comedy.* Now that so many women have broken through corporate “ceilings”, took over or formed their own corporations, groups and associations, they are poised to change the corporate climate, just like President Obama crusades to change “Washington’s climate”. To the masses of working people it makes no difference, whether they are bossed and fired by a man or a woman at the top. The true, significant change that would shape a better, more just democratic society could only come from a different consciousness of industrial and political leaders, regardless of gender. President Obama has embarked on that journey and set the tone. Women leaders would do well to tune into his consciousness and work on their own for a more just and humane model of governing.

    *I am writing a soon to be published post “You are fired, Mr. Trump” in my:

  3. Mark Evans

    Per Padmasree Warrior,”While she is a great cook, she is simply unable to follow a recipe” This is the key “ingredient” to visionary entrepreneurs. Along with her creative and groundbreaking work I hope Padmasree goes that path in the future.

  4. Drue Kataoka

    @ Francine – Padmasree couldn’t be more deserving — I agree.

    @ Vlasta – Thank you for your in depth comments.

  5. Jonathan K

    Great job on this post!
    I like the picture with Brendan.

  6. Drue Kataoka

    @ Mark – Thanks for playing with the metaphor. I agree! Appreciate your comments.

    @ Jonathan – Thanx. We enjoyed talking with him.

  7. Jody Mahoney

    I was interviewed the following week by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and I quoted both Padmasree Warrior, Cisco CTO and Dr. Yuqing Gao, Sr. Manager IBM T. J. Watson Labs in my interview discussing the Imposter Syndrome–why many women struggle with taking credit for their work. During her Women of Vision award speech, Yuqing observed “risk taking and focus are the two most important skills a woman can have.” And during the keynote, Padmasree Warrior urged women to “be authentic, be transparent, be approachable.” Sage advice for all women.

  8. Caroline Simard

    Drue and Bill, fantastic post. We need to continue shining the light on the successes of women in technology. These incredible award winners inspire us all. There are very few role models for girls and young women in tech. Consider that the annual UC Davis Census of Women in Business in California finds that nearly half of the 400 largest firms in California have all male executive teams – among the worst in terms of diversity at the top, high-tech firms. We have a long way to go. If Silicon Valley is a hotbed of innovation and diversity, shouldn’t it lead the way in breaking the Silicon Ceiling?

  9. Drue Kataoka

    @ Jody — I read about your speaking at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, What an exciting venue and a trip to talk tech down under. Fantastic that you shared some of the gems from this memorable night.

    @ Caroline – Thank you so much for your positive words. These surveys are a wake up call. We all need to get on the stick in big ways and small ways. When I spoke to Winfried Wilcke, husband of Anita Borg, he said we have a very long way to go still in terms of increasing women’s numbers.

    Both of you are such an asset for this great cause!! Thank you!

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