Chm Blog Exponential Center

Women's Work: Insights from Silicon Valley Women in Tech

By Heidi Hackford | February 28, 2018

New series Women’s Work: Perspectives on Gender in Tech from the Exponential Center at the Computer History Museum promotes conversation and positive change in celebration of Women’s History Month. Image:

New series Women’s Work: Perspectives on Gender in Tech from the Exponential Center at the Computer History Museum promotes conversation and positive change in celebration of Women’s History Month. Image:

In 1962, Evelyn Berezin designed a reservation system for United Airlines that served 60 cities throughout the United States with a one-second response time. It had no central system failures in 11 years of operation. One of the largest systems built at that time, few people had the skills to design it, but Berezin was turned down for a subsequent job at the New York Stock Exchange because she might hear language on the trading floor that was “inappropriate for women.” Undeterred, she started her own computer company, Redactron, which quickly became a success. Evelyn Berezin was selected by the Computer History Museum (CHM) as a 2015 Fellow, honoring her early work in computer design and a lifetime of entrepreneurial activity. The Museum captured Berezin’s story in its freely accessible oral history collection and remains committed to ensuring that women are not only acknowledged for their contributions to computing and entrepreneurship past and present but also that their stories are shared.

Berezin’s story is not uncommon—even today. News articles and personal stories about gender discrimination and the sexual harassment of women at work are sparking a much-needed conversation in Silicon Valley and throughout the world. In recognition of Women’s History Month, the Exponential Center at CHM is launching a new series—Women’s Work: Perspectives on Gender in Tech, a collection of short videos and discussion guides that explore a variety of topics on women in tech, such as gender and job stereotypes, leadership, and unconscious bias. The videos highlight the personal experiences and insights of successful women entrepreneurs and leaders in Silicon Valley and build on ongoing events and programs at the Museum.

The introductory video provides an overview of women in tech, and eight companion videos delve more deeply into specific topics. Watch the videos below and download provocative discussion guides here to explore the issues more deeply and consider solutions for positive change. Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below or on CHM's Facebook page with hashtags #startsomething, #wetoo, and #tecthtoo.

Women’s Work: Women Tech Leaders on the Gender Gap

Women tech leaders on the state of women in tech.

This overview video provides insights and advice from some of the most successful and powerful Silicon Valley women in tech about the state of the field and how we can work together to make it better. For instance, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg discusses the gender pay gap, Daphne Koller, founder of Coursera, makes a plea for men to recognize women’s contributions in meetings, and long-time NetApp senior vice president of software systems Helen Bradley talks about how the numbers of women she was able to recruit diminished drastically from the mid-1980s to the 1990s. The Museum hosts live events throughout the year that give voice to these women’s stories and others.

Join this Discussion

Do you think conditions are better or worse for women in tech today compared to 1985? 1995? 2005? Why?

Start Something

What specific actions can you take to promote greater inclusion and equality in your own career and personal life?

Title Roles: Exploring Job Stereotypes

Daphne Koller on job stereotypes.

In this video, Daphne Koller, a brilliant data scientist and cofounder of Coursera, describes how her male assistant was assumed to be her boss. Silicon Valley and the US are not alone in stereotyping tech jobs. Women’s exclusion from particular roles in computing in Britain from the 1940s to the 1970s, which led to chronic shortages in labor and expertise, is explored in the CHM Medium article “Women, Gender, Sexuality, and Computing History.”

Join this Discussion

What are the stereotypical characteristics of jobs that are traditionally considered “women’s work”?

Start Something

How can you combat your unconscious tendency to stereotype jobs? What specific actions can you take?

Central Casting: The “Typical” Entrepreneur

Heidi Roizen and Debra Sterling on stereotypes of entrepreneurs.

Venture capitalist and entrepreneur Heidi Roizen and GoldieBlox founder and CEO Debra Sterling discuss the challenges facing women, who do not fit the stereotype of a tech founder, and how that makes it difficult to obtain funding. Only 2 percent of venture capital went to women in 2017. Things don’t seem to have changed much since 1972, when software entrepreneur Sandy Kurtzig recalled that “a woman starting her own company was considered a pariah, a piranha or both.” Read about her story and others in CHM’s 2016 issue of Core magazine devoted to women in computing.

Join this Discussion

Describe your idea of the “typical” tech startup founder. What is this person’s sex, race, age, family and educational background, career field?

Start Something

What can people do to combat stereotypes about entrepreneurs? What actions can you take the next time you hear or see someone promoting a stereotype?

“Bossy Women”: Gender Bias and Women’s Leadership

Sheryl Sandberg on women’s leadership.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, asks why we don’t think it’s natural for women to lead. To help counteract that stereotype, it’s important to recognize the contributions of women leaders. The Museum’s Fellows Award program honors both men and women leaders who have changed the world. Recent Fellow Margaret Hamilton, recognized for her leadership and work on software for DOD and NASA’s Apollo space missions, is included in the Museum’s self-guided Women In Computing tour. The Museum offers Women in Computing docent talks every Friday in March at 2 pm and on alternate Fridays the rest of the year. Visit us and join one!

Join this Discussion

Do you know girls or women you consider “bossy”? What behaviors or traits made you think of them that way?

Start Something

How can leadership qualities be fostered in young girls? Teenage girls? Working women? What actions can you take to help and how can you get boys and men involved?

Need a Lift? Standing Alone in the Workplace

Bozoma Saint John on the pressures of minority representation.

In this video, Uber Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John talks about the pressure minority employees feel to represent others who look like them. She says it’s important to build diverse communities in the workplace so everyone feels like they belong. The Museum’s interactive DesignCodeBuild workshops for middle school students feature diverse tech “rock stars” of both sexes to help kids see themselves in roles they may never have imagined. Check out some of the impressive women who have participated: NASA’s Wendy A. Okolo, Miss CEO Nita Singh Kaushal, Apple’s Jasmin Wills, and NASA’s Ali Guarneros Luna.

Join this Discussion

What’s a good first step in creating a more diverse group? How do you convince people not yet represented to join in?

Start Something

In different groups in your social, family, academic or professional life, you may find yourself surrounded by others like you—or not. Reflect upon those different groups: how do you act differently? Do you have the same level of agency? Do you show or hide those traits that make you similar or different depending upon the setting? If you don’t often find yourself in a group with those either like you or different from you, make an effort to expose yourself to such a group and take note of the different dynamics. How do you think these dynamics play into hiring and longevity in the workplace?

Women’s Movement: How the Needle Has(n’t) Moved

Lore Harp McGovern on sexism in the 1970s.

Early computer entrepreneur Lore Harp McGovern talks about sexism in the tech industry before the term “sexual harassment” was widely known. Her experience building an early personal computer hardware company is captured in the Museum’s oral history collection. Other notable women’s voices in the collection include: Winifred Bake of Mozilla; Ann Hardy of Tymshare and Key Logic; ENIAC programmer Jean Bartik; and, Grace Gentry of Gentry Inc., among others. Recently captured oral histories from Apple’s Joanna Hoffman and software pioneer Sandy Kurtzig are in process.

Join this Discussion

What do you think you would do if you saw or experienced sexual harassment?

Start Something

What do you think you would do if you saw or experienced sexual harassment? Imagine how would you like to respond? Sometimes it’s hard to react appropriately or effectively in the moment. Develop a plan of action so you are prepared.

Girl Toys: Communicating Gender Stereotypes to Children

Debra Sterling on communicating gender stereotypes to children.

Debra Sterling, founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, relates how the mainstream toy industry rejected the engineering toys she designed for girls. The Museum combats stereotypes with programs specifically designed for girls. Coming up this spring, two events in partnership with Girls Scouts of Northern California teach the basic concepts of coding and applied mathematics and an understanding of physical computing to inspire middle school girls to pursue STEAM in their future education and careers. Register for Level 1 on March 24 or Level 2 on April 22. This past summer, CHM hosted 23 girls from the Technovation Challenge, a global technology entrepreneurship program for girls that invites participants from all over the world to learn how to use technology to solve real-world problems.

Join this Discussion

How might a child feel whose interest in a toy does not match its stereotypical target group?

Start Something

Think about your own school or work environment. Have you ever noticed gender biases in yourself or others? What was the situation? Consider how you could take steps to change it in the future?

“Heidi vs. Herself”: Gender and Leadership Traits

Heidi Roizen on stereotypes of women leaders.

The cofounder and CEO of early database software company T/Maker, Heidi Roizen says she would rather be respected than liked. But being liked may not actually be up to her as an experiment that evaluated her resume as a man vs. woman revealed. Heidi and engineer/entrepreneur Kim Polese discussed their experiences as women CEOs on a panel devoted to the upcoming documentary Silicon Valley: The Untold Story, which addresses the “bro culture” of the region. The film will air March 19, 2018, on Discovery’s Science Channel. CHM is the community and educational outreach partner and the Exponential Center will provide curriculum for grades 7-12 as well as college and adult learners to accompany the documentary.

Join this Discussion

Some companies have resorted to “blind” hiring practices where the sex of the applicant is not known. Is this a good solution to the problem of bias?

Start Something

Think about the bosses or leaders you have experienced in your life. What were their styles? How did you feel about them? Can you identify any evidence of stereotyping or bias on your part? What can you do about it?

What if? Gender and the STEM Pipeline

Helen Bradley and Susan Wojcicki on gender and the STEM pipeline.

This video with NetApp’s former VP Helen Bradley and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki invites speculation about what the world might look like if women had been equal partners in tech from the very beginning. The Museum’s exhibit Thinking Big: Ada, Countess of Lovelace about an inspiring 19th century English mathematician and visionary makes this question particularly poignant. Ada corresponded with important (male) thinkers of her time and was acknowledged for her mathematical and intellectual prowess but few know her name. A discussion with Susan Wojcicki accompanied the launch of the exhibit. The Museum consciously captures the experiences of key lesser-known women like Helen Bradley who have been involved in tech from its early days, ensuring their voices are not lost as time passes. Look for them in CHM’s oral history collection and watch Helen’s full interview on CHM’s YouTube channel.

Join this Discussion

Are you involved in tech? If so, how did you become interested in it and what has your experience been like? If you have never been involved, did you ever consider it? Why or why not?

Start Something

What kind of “culture” do you create around yourself at work and at home? How can you ensure that it is inclusive?

The women in these videos are optimistic about improving conditions for women working in tech. They are committed to putting in the time and effort to build a brighter future. The Museum, too, will continue to pursue initiatives to help make that future a reality. What will you do to start something?


View the full live programs and oral histories used to create the videos:

About Women in Tech Initiative

Collaborating with teams across the Computer History Museum, the Exponential Center’s Women in Tech Initiative recognizes and shares women’s fundamental contributions to technology innovation and entrepreneurship. We want to do our part to support and enable more diversity and inclusion for innovators and entrepreneurs as we move into the future.

About the Exponential Center @CHM

The Exponential Center at the Computer History Museum captures the legacy —and advances the future—of entrepreneurship and innovation in Silicon Valley and around the world. The center explores the people, companies, and communities that are transforming the human experience through technology innovation, economic value creation, and social impact. Our mission: to inform, influence, and inspire the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders changing the world.

Read this article on Medium

About The Author

Heidi Hackford is the director of editorial at the Computer History Museum. She is responsible for working across CHM to drive the Museum's mission of decoding technology through engaging, audience-centric, and on-brand storytelling. Heidi previously worked at Monticello, where she edited Thomas Jefferson’s family letters. At the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, she established a digital archive and conducted teacher workshops on incorporating digital history resources in the classroom. After moving to Silicon Valley, Heidi directed the start-up of a new foundation promoting wilderness conservation through art.

Join the Discussion


FacebookTwitterCopy Link