I’ve had an amazing discussion with Gilda and Patty. Both are co-founders and lead Latinas in Computing (LIC), a grassroots organization whose goal is to increase the opportunities for underrepresented women minorities in technology. These women are perfect examples of role models for young generations within the Latino communities. Currently, Gilda is a principal engineer at Oracle while Patty is a platform application engineer at Intel. Both volunteer their time to help the others and pay it forward! Simply superb!
The Latinas in Computing (LIC) was established in 2006 as a small gathering of Latinas at the Grace Hopper Conference. Patty(left) and Gilda(right) are both leaders in LIC. Patty and Gilda have faced their own challenges growing up as Latina women, engineers – 1% of people in computing and constantly battling stereotypes.
Q: You are participating at the Grace Hopper Celebration this year. What do you want the girls to take away from your events at Grace Hopper?
A: Increased participation, more women getting involved with us. The biggest thing we work on and where it hurts the most to lose them is in graduate programs. A lot of Latinas succeed in the Master’s program. But in the PhD program, they lose confidence. It can be very competitive and isolated. That is when they start to doubt themselves and think they can’t make it through to the end. We hope to change that way of thinking and to mentor and encourage them to try instead of giving up. Historically from 1995-2005 we graduated 2-3 Latinas per year with a PhD in computer science. With the work of Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (CAHSI), that number is up to 8-9 per year. From this, women with research careers can go into academia, industry, or government. Once they have done this they serve as role models for young women.
At Grace Hopper and other conferences, we have organized mentoring workshops as well as career workshops. We are involved with organizations such as CAHSI, NCWIT, CRA-W and ABI that support women and minorities; we are at the intersection of those two. And we also work other women of colors communities such as BWIC (Black Women in Computing). At Grace Hopper 2012, we hope to connect as well with groups focusing on disabled women. We are trying to branch out and be as inclusive as we can.
Retention is our number one goal. We would like to concentrate on sharing resources for women who are starting a new career after school. We would like to connect with companies that can help them find their first job and to mentor them. Our goal is to take care of their health, helping them get their first job and seeing them move on and up.
Q: What are some of the challenges that Latinas/minority/women in the workforce face?
A: There are a lot of challenges that Latinas face. To mention a few, many Latinas are English as a Second Language (ESL) speakers, and the ability to communicate effectively in English is constantly judged. Second, the pedigree of your alma mater is a strong factor in determining who will hire you – thus there are more foreign-born Latinas hired in academia and in research labs than U.S. born. Many women of color “wear” their ethnicity or race – it is not something you can hide (not that you would want to), but accents and atypical names are a giveaway on resumes and business cards. It is a challenge to slip out from under gender and ethnic stereotypes, and there is strong social pressure to deny that the workplace is anything but equitable. It is not impossible to find opportunities, and there are fabulous Latinas in research all over the US who are able to get good jobs in academia, government labs, and industry (such as at Oracle Labs) but they often come with their own set of challenges because you have to advocate for yourself and there are few role models and mentors to help you up the career ladder. Latinas can move up and have good jobs but until the stereotypes are challenged by the majority, the challenges will never fully disappear. We would like to see more successful Latinas in at all levels of technology, however they define success for themselves.
Q: How many women are parts of the organization?
A: We have 150 members and a large number of those women are undergrad and graduates. You can check out the membership page at our website www.latinasincomputing.org to get a sample of who we are and where we come from.
Q: How can women participate in your organizations if they can’t go to Baltimore?
A: They can join our community by signing up for our mailing list and/or our Facebook group. More information is available at http://latinasincomputing.org/get-involved. They can also join Systers, a larger group of women in computing which is our umbrella organization within the Anita Borg Institute of Women in Technology (ABI). By joining they can get the wealth of knowledge from women all over the world.
By attending our events in conferences or regional workshops where they may benefit by participating in sessions and networking opportunities. As they mature, they can step up into leadership responsibilities and get to present at a conference. They get the experience of interacting with more senior speakers and the possibilities of 1-1 mentoring conversations. Also, there are lots of opportunities for code-a-thons if they are interested in coding for a good cause/non-profit organization..
Other opportunities might include junior entrepreneur programs such as the one offered by ThoughtWorks, where they mentor the women and show them what it is like to be an entrepreneur. They can also put together a workshop for girls at risk by putting the girls in contact with people who can help them get through their challenges.
If you would like to meet members of the Latinas In Computing come visit them at the Grace Hopper Celebration. This year the Grace Hopper Celebration will take place October 3-6, 2012 at the Baltimore Convention Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Last years event attracted 2890 participants from 34 countries, learn more about the Grace Hopper Celebration. To learn more about Latinas In Computing, check out their site.
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