Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend my first WITI Women and Technology Summit (#witisummit), held this year in San Jose—and was truly impressed and inspired by this conference. If you’re not familiar with WITI (Women In Technology International), the organization was launched 21 years ago—when the technology industry was very different and much more of a male-dominated field than it is today. Carolyn Leighton founded WITI to bring talented, capable women in technology together, and provide a showcase for their contributions to the field.

I was excited to join fellow panelists Vanessa Alvarez, Frost  & Sullivan and James Watters from VMWare, along with our moderator, Ray Wang, Altimeter Group, for the Applied Cloud panel. The event schedule was jam-packed with great sessions on social media, green IT and emerging markets and cloud computing, along with business and professional development sessions, and plenty of time for networking. With many parallel sessions and breakouts, I could only attend a handful, but found them extremely valuable.

One thing really stood out for me at this event is that while most business and professional awards ceremonies tend to be dull and boring, WITI’s 15th Annual Hall of Fame Awards was anything but. This year’s event honored 5 women technology luminaries for their outstanding contributions. Dr. Ruth Westheimer, aka Dr. Ruth—who needs no introduction—received one of the awards.  At 82 years old, Dr. Ruth still has the magic touch (no pun intended!) when it comes to publicly speaking about sexual and reproductive topics in an engaging and enlightening way. The other women honored included:

  • Sandy Carter, VP of IBM Software Group Business Partners, and a social media expert, author and channels dynamo.
  • Dr. Ruth David, currently President and CEO of Analytic Services, Inc., and former Deputy Director for Science and Technology at the CIA, and a pioneer in providing analysis to help strengthen national security.
  • Dr. Adele Goldberg, Founding Chairman, ParcPlace Systems, Inc., and co-inventor of personal computing and pervasive networking at Xerox PARC back in the 1970s!
  • Dr. Susie Wee, CTO, Client Cloud Services at HP, and prolific developer of imaging, digital television and mobile video technologies, as well as MIT’s “Researchers in Residence” program for MIT grad students.

Clearly, none of these women have let others define their roles or set boundaries on what they can accomplish. But, in addition to their extraordinary contributions and credentials, each of these women share several other characteristics that really set them apart as leaders—and make them role models for us all, women and men.

  • Remarkably committed and authentic team players. They put their egos aside to engage and energize their teams. Sandy Carter, for example, founded the IBM Super Women’s Group, which now has something like 12,000 members at IBM. Several members were at the event, and their admiration and appreciation for Sandy was real and evident.
  • Great listeners. They are genuinely interested in who other people are, and the different perspectives they bring to the table. A short video clip about Dr. Susie Wee and her HP team, for instance, underscored her ability to actively listen and absorb input from a diverse spectrum of talented people to help shape and refine project goals—and end up with better outcomes.
  • Multi-dimensional. Their technology accomplishments are stellar, but its clear that they define themselves much more broadly. The stories they told focused not only on their passion for technology, but also underscored how their roles as daughters, mothers, wives and grandmothers; hockey players and authors; mentors, educators and philanthropists are just as important to their sense of who they are in the world.

It was definitely a different, fun and energizing experience to attend a technology conference where about 90% or more of the participants were women. I would highly recommend it to women already in the field, as well as to those thinking about exploring it, —and I’m looking forward to next year’s event.