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Feminist Pioneer, Computer Scientist Dies at 54

Anita Borg, a computer scientist and feminist advocate for women’s involvement in technology, died of brain cancer on Sunday. Among her many accomplishments, Borg founded the Systers mailing list, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and the Institute for Women and Technology in Palo Alto, CA. “It’s impossible to overstate her role in creating a community of female computer scientists that has helped students and professionals stay in the field, organized to bring more women in and helped people achieve their full potential,” Ellen Spertus, a professor of computer science at Mills College, told Salon.

Borg created the Systers mailing list, an email group that provides support and mentorship for women in computing, after noticing that there were very few women at a 1987 computing conference, according to the Associated Press. The group now has more than 2,500 members in 38 countries. In 1992, the Systers group started the protest against the speaking Barbie doll that said “math class is hard,” which resulted in the removal of that phrase from the doll’s speaking chip, according to the New York Times.

Recently, Borg threw out a challenge at a National Science Foundation conference that she called “50/50 by 2020.” Her goal for women to be half of all computer science graduates by the year 2020, according to Salon. “She was the first woman who really said that women should create the tools of society, not only technology, but machinery, every kind of tool, because the people that design those tools determine how they should be used, and ultimately control society,” Sylvia Paull, the founder of GraceNet, an organization for women in technology, told Salon. Borg won the $250,000 Heinz Award for Technology, the Economy, and Employment in 2002, and was appointed to the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology by President Clinton in 1999.

Sources:

New York Times 4/10/03; Los Angeles Times 4/9/03; Salon 4/9/03