IBM Leadership

“Keeping It Real” on International Women’s Day

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The tech industry has a lot to answer for these days. It is no longer is acceptable to create social platforms without overseeing their use, to capture data without protecting privacy, or to ignore cultural diversity when developing new tools “for all.” IBM takes its stewardship of innovation, technology and their consequences seriously. And we are not alone. A majority of leaders of the world’s most established companies – enterprises that have survived over time, and that employ the most people – agrees that “responsible stewardship” in technology is essential.

What does that mean, exactly? Terms that come to mind include “oversight of innovation,” “data security and privacy” and “cultural sensitivity and inclusion.” These are among our responsibilities as we help transform the way the world works. But educating and mentoring the next generation, and creating partnerships in service also are critical components of our greater responsibility. That’s why IBM is reinventing education for all with P-TECH, engaging five million girls and boys in STEM literacy over the next five years through SkillsBuild, and adding $10 million worth of skills and services this year to the nearly $50 million in pro bono consulting projects (including Corporate Service Corps) that have benefitted women and girls over the last decade.

On International Women’s Day, we celebrate service and inclusion, acknowledge the importance of embracing change, and renew our commitment to do more.

Here are the stories of just three of the many amazing women at IBM who are “keeping it real” today and every day. In her own way, each has leveraged a grounded perspective on the realities of work, family and society to engage the next generation, mentor emerging talent and create a legacy of service.

At a Women in Technology conference, IBM Fellow Rhonda Childress explains the innovations behind her illuminated coat (photo: Charlie Kaijo)

IBM Fellow Rhonda Childress grew up with economic uncertainty, used scholarships to get through college, and has dedicated her 25+ year IBM career to volunteer service, and advocating for women’s advancement and the work/life balance that enables it. “One of my rules for the women and men I mentor is that they must ‘pay it forward’ to at least five others – two of whom must be women,” Rhonda says. She was the executive sponsor of the Women’s Patent Group at IBM (founded by IBM Distinguished Engineer Pam Nesbitt), and has worked tirelessly with girls (typically ages 12 to 16) through Girls Who Code. “When I talk to girls about STEM study and careers, I think it’s important to start with the outcomes of STEM innovation, and then work back to the underlying principles. This helps make STEM more relatable and relevant to a young person who may have difficulty visualizing her adult future – especially if she’s coming from an environment where girls are discouraged in this area,” Rhonda continues. “That’s one of the reasons I got involved in the projects to make garments with programmable LED displays! Tailoring them drove me to distraction, but the kids loved them, it demonstrated the practical uses of technology to them, and IBM got a patent out of it!”

Niambh Scullion co-founded the Girls Dojo of Ireland-based CoderDojo

IBM Scrum Product Owner Niambh Scullion lost her father early. As a result she is keenly sensitive to the combined challenges of economics and gender that many girls face. Niambh began her career in nursing, developed an interest in computers while working with them at a hospital, and then “fell in love” with computer applications as a mature student at Dublin City University, from which she earned First-class honors in computer science. “I have always been involved in community service,” Niambh says, “and was delighted to be able to continue volunteering after I joined IBM through an acquisition six years ago. I’ve made extensive use of IBM Impact Grants to help support joint IBM/Dublin City University programs in community service. Having these grants available has made it easy for me to serve.”

Niambh has worked with the global CoderDojo community (based in Ireland) since 2012, and co-founded the Girls Dojo in 2013 – a model subsequently adapted by other CoderDojo affiliates. “Establishing the Girls Dojo helped raise the organization’s awareness of some of the issues facing girls in STEM,” Niambh says. Many of Niambh’s protégés have gone on to university and paid forward their experience as mentors. “There’s really a multi-generational aspect to this type of service,” Niambh continues. “You not only have to work with the girls directly, but you also have to influence their mothers so they understand their daughters’ potentials to succeed.”

Krista Shibata at the Women in Science & Engineering conference, Queen’s University

Krista Shibata is two years into her “dream job” leading the focus on Public Affairs & Women in Technology for IBM in Canada. “Only 18 percent of engineers in Canada are female, with no growth in that number over the last 30 years,” she says. “Even worse, the number of female computer science graduates in Canada – currently just 13 percent – has actually gone down,” she continues. “Part of the problem is systemic, as computer science is not required for high school graduation in most of Canada. The major problem is cultural, with girls choosing to opt out of STEM-focused education and opportunities. We need to help girls see how science can open doors of opportunity for them, and then we need to do a better job of giving them access to those opportunities.” For Krista, providing that access has involved her development and coordination of the IBM STEM 4 Girls initiative. This year, to commemorate International Women’s Day, Krista and female IBMers from Toronto, Calgary and Ottawa, will be participating in a STEM conference for more than 450 girls, a networking and panel discussion event for girls in grades 7 to 12, and a mentoring lunch with a local university and school. The goal is to illuminate the potentials, opportunities and support networks available to girls and women in STEM across Canada, and to inspire the ongoing engagement of IBM’s Regional Volunteer Communities in addressing this critical issue. Follow Twitter hashtag #IBMSTEM4Girls for updates and photos on International Women’s Day and every day as IBM STEM 4 Girls makes a difference in girls lives across Canada.

International Women’s Day provides us with a milestone for focusing our attention on the myriad challenges faced by women and girls around the world. As the “responsible steward” at the intersection of business, technology and service, IBM and IBMers are uniquely positioned to recognized some of these challenges and call upon our compassion and our expertise to help overcome them.

Jennifer Ryan Crozier is President of the IBM Foundation and Vice President of IBM Citizenship.

Related Resources:

SD Times: International Women’s Day Highlights Software’s Shrinking Gender Gap

Learn More About IBM Volunteer Service

Learn More About Corporate Responsibility at IBM

Read the Latest IBM Corporate Responsibility Report

President, IBM Foundation and Vice President, IBM Corporate Citizenship

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