Dawn Nafus, Ph.D., an anthropologist at Intel, discusses why a technology company would have an anthropologist on staff, and exactly what she does for them. Dawn will be speaking at the eComm Conference being held March 12 - 14, 2008 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. Her topic will be “Context Aware Technologies” and how they can assist different cultures and countries around the world.
About 4:30 minutes into the interview, Pat Lynch asks Dr. Nafus why there are only a few women on the program at eComm and indeed at most high tech conferences. She doesn't have a simple answer but she does point out it's a myth that women's position in high tech is getting better gradually over time, at least in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is very young in the grand scheme of things, it has little or no history. And yet, it has reproduced the male dominated culture that was a characteristic of older industries. Now older industries are improving at a greater rate than high tech.
I just recently read Herman Goldstine's classic history of the early days of computing, The Computer from Pascal to von Neumann. Interestingly, some women play key roles, not just Ada Byron (Lady Lovelace), but multiple women during and after WWII. And when I think back to the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) that I joined as a student in the early 1970s, there were more women involved in programming, and the mathematical side of the computer industry than in traditional industries. Also my first part time job was with a small company where 25% of the software staff (1 out of 4) were women. :-)
I look forward to hearing Dr. Nafus speak on "Context Aware Technologies" at eComm this coming week. Hopefully I'll also get a chance to talk with her, as she mentioned some references to recent literature on women in high tech.