Celebrating International Women’s Day

Raneheadshot2014 Despite all the efforts, wide gender imbalance still exists in innovation worldwide, with number of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields decreasing from secondary school to university, laboratories to teaching, and policy making to decision making.

At the same time, most developed countries are forecasting an alarming shortfall in the number of skilled people to fill these jobs. The International Telecommunications Union predicts that 90 percent of future professional positions will require information and communications technology skills as well as a solid background in science or technology. Developing women’s competencies will widen the pool available to perform these tasks, while opening opportunities for women to pursue their dreams.

iwdThis is why Microsoft believes in the importance of diversity to drive innovation and the need to enable women all over the world to become producers of tomorrow’s technology. I am excited to join Microsoft executives Lori Forte Harnick and Margo Day, as we partner with U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center, United Nations Office for Partnerships and UN Women, for the 5th Annual International Women’s Day Forum: The Empowerment Bridge: Building Economic Empowerment for Women and Girls, held in New York City Wednesday and Thursday.

This event is particularly important to me, being a first-generation Vietnamese American. I was an immigrant at-risk youth who was emancipated at age 14. It was an interest in science, engineering and technology that helped me grow out of poverty and become a leader in the field. To see young women around the world embrace this field and create solutions that will make a difference inspires me every day and excites me to represent Microsoft as we partner with amazing organizations to enable every girl in the world reach their full potential.

I am excited to work with Lori, who leads Microsoft’s global work on corporate social responsibility as general manager for Citizenship & Public Affairs. She will kick off the event with Marc DeCourcey, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Corporate Citizenship Center. Personally and professionally Marc has seen how lives and entire communities are transformed when women are empowered. Through his work with the Red Cross and currently with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, he understand the value of business, nonprofits and governments all coming together to improve lives.

Lori’s passion to help students all over the world makes her perfect for this event. Not only does she lead Microsoft’s social responsibility and service, legal and public policy arm, she serves on a number of boards and an advocate in the community. I love that she is an active volunteer for Global Give Back Circle, which integrates mentoring, private sector engagement, government and local community support to help at-risk girls in Africa complete their education, gain employable skills and transition into the workplace.

Lori will be speaking about sustainable development goals and the role of the business community during a panel Thursday. She has been mentoring Egypt-born Raneem Medhat as part of Microsoft’s YouthSpark initiative. “She is a few months away from graduating university with a computer science degree,” Lori says of Raneem. “It is really interesting to work with her at this juncture in her life.”

Also, as part of the event, Microsoft’s Vice President of U.S. Public Sector Education Margo Day will have a discussion about accelerating STEM education with Anna Maria Chávez, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts USA and Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s chief of staff. It will be an inspiring and action-filled session, with one of my favorite broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien of CNN moderating.

Margo is perfect for this discussion not only because she is leading our work in education across the country, but in September 2011, she stepped away from her role at Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners to focus her passion and energy on raising funds and awareness for the Kenya Vulnerable Girls Education Project and Child Protection, partnering with World Vision, an effort that built schools and deepened community advocacy for education.

We will end the day with a screening of “Big Dream” and a panel discussion with the director, and a student from the film, as well as partners UN Women and Global Girls Collaborative Project.

Underwritten by Microsoft, “Big Dream” follows the intimate stories of seven young women who are breaking barriers and overcoming personal challenges to follow their passions in science, math, computing and engineering. Much like International Women’s Day itself, the hope of the film is to show young women all over the world that computer science is creative, collaborative and impactful ― and they can be producers of the solutions that will solve the world’s greatest challenges.

Learn more on how you can enable women around the world:

Host a free screening: Big Dream Movement
Learn: Free CS online learning for girls
Find resources: UN Women Empower Women
Find STEM organizations near you: National Girls Collaborative Project, US Chamber Commerce Foundation
Watch the State Department’s American Film Showcase

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Scholarships to Increase Gender Diversity in Computer Science

Women are woefully under-represented in computing fields. I know; you’ve heard me say this before, but the statistics bear repeating: In 2014, women made up less than 20 percent of those graduating with computer and information science degrees, despite the fact that women overall accounted for more than half of all baccalaureate graduates.

This dearth of women pursuing computing degrees is doubly unfortunate. First, it deprives the economy of much-needed talent: the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that, at present rates, only 39 percent of the estimated 1.2 million computing-related jobs in 2022 will be filled by computing graduates. Second, women bring a unique perspective to male-dominated computing fields, providing the team diversity that executives value.

Microsoft Research is committed to increasing women’s presence in computing, which is why we established the Graduate Women’s Scholarship. These scholarships offer vital support to female computing students during their second year of graduate studies: a US$15,000 stipend plus a US$2,000 travel and conference allowance—resources to help the recipients gain visibility in their departments, acquire mentorship, and cover the ever-growing cost of graduate programs.

Here are the winners of the 2015 Microsoft Research Graduate Women’s Scholarship:

  • Alexandra Schofield, Cornell University
  • Hannah Gommerstadt, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Jane E, Stanford University
  • Jiaqi Mu, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • Kaitlyn Becker, Harvard University
  • Kellie Ottoboni, University of California, Berkeley
  • Lisa Gai, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Olga Zamaraeva, University of Washington, Seattle
  • Sulekha Kulkarni, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Wenjie Xiong, Yale University

In addition to the Graduate Women’s Scholarships, Microsoft Research is proud to support the NCWIT Academic Alliance Seed Fund, which provides U.S. academic institutions with funds (up to US$15,000 per project) to develop and implement initiatives for recruiting and retaining women in computer science and information technology fields of study. Learn more about the Seed Fund and the recently announced 2015 award recipients.

Congratulations to all the winning programs and students. We look forward to great things from 2015’s women in computing.

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research

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Diversifying Computer Science

Smart managers have long recognized the importance of diversity in the workplace. They know from experience what empirical research has shown: diverse teams outperform those made up of individual “all stars,” particularly when it comes to innovation.

The value of diversity is why Microsoft Research is pleased to join with other groups across the company to support the 2015 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing (the Tapia Conference), the Association of Computing Machinery’s premier diversity event. The Tapia Conference brings together undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, researchers, and computing professionals of all backgrounds and ethnicities.

This year’s theme, “Diversity at Scale,” celebrates efforts that move beyond conversation and study into full implementation of diversity in all aspects of computing. Befitting our commitment to this goal, Microsoft attendees are a culturally and professionally diverse group of women and men representing different ethnicities, nationalities, and computing careers, including researchers, engineers, interns, and business executives.

Among the Microsoft leaders playing prominent roles in the conference are Microsoft Vice President Jacky Wright, who will deliver a keynote address on the power of data, and Jennifer Chayes, director of our New England and New York research labs, who will be participating in a fireside chat on big data. In addition, a number of Microsoft employees—including Jessica Lingel, Bhavini Soneji, and Fernando Diaz—will join me in supporting the career mentoring workshops, plenary sessions, poster presentations, and career fair.

Participants of the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School
Participants of the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School

Personally, I’m most excited about the poster session presentations from the diverse undergraduate students who attended the 2014 Microsoft Research Data Science Summer School (DS3). Designed to encourage participation from New York City area college students who are women, minorities, and individuals with disabilities, DS3 is a hands-on, eight-week introduction to data science. DS3 includes coursework in data science, taught by leading scientists from Microsoft Research’s lab in New York. The students study tools and techniques for acquiring, cleaning, and utilizing real-world data for research purposes, and are introduced to concepts in applied statistics and machine learning. DS3 students also participate group research projects, two of which will be represented at the poster session:

  • An Empirical Analysis of Stop-and-Frisk in New York City looks at the social cost of the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk program and develops a simple predictive model to aid officers in making better decisions about whom to stop and under what circumstances.
  • Self-Balancing Bikes explores a simple re-routing scheme to improve the availability of bikes while simultaneously reducing operating costs in the United States’ largest bike-sharing program.

If you are a college student from the New York area, you are welcome to apply for the 2015 Summer School. We will be accepting applications soon, online.

On the last day of the conference, I’ll join academic and industry leaders for a one-day summit where we will map out strategies for graduating more students who are ethnic minorities, women, and people with disabilities in the field of computing. We will also discuss methods for increasing their rate of advancement once they have entered the workplace. I’m looking forward to brainstorming some great initiatives for attaining diversity at scale!

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research

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