Women in Technology International

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Founded in 1989 by Carolyn Leighton, Women in Technology International (WITI) is a leading worldwide authority on women in the technology business.For nearly 30 years, WITI has consistently offered a clear voice advocating women’s contributions to the tech industry, inspiring them to pursue STEM careers and actively working with corporate partners to create a culture of equality.[1]


Founded in 1989 and based in California, WITI rapidly became the leading organization in the U.S.A., and then the world for women in technology.[citation needed] WITI's mission was to increase the number of women in management and executive level positions, to help women become more technologically literate as well as financially independent and to encourage young women to choose careers in science and technology.

At the time of WITI's founding, Leighton was building her third and most successful company, Criterion Research, which she started in 1984. She vividly remembers the day the idea for WITI was born. "I was sitting in a coffee shop waiting for a colleague and friend, Terry, who was also building a small company. We had become friends and met regularly to help each other with business ideas, etc. While I waited for Terry—who was running about 30 minutes late—I started reading the cover story of a business magazine I'd brought with me. The story was about why women were not making it to the top, reporting that there was a mere 2% increase of women into middle management positions during the previous 10 year period. It was a statistic I found startling, even though it supported the stream of incredible stories I was hearing from women in technology at my client companies."[1]

WITI started out as a series of small meetings with women in southern and northern California talking about issues, ideas for the network, and how WITI could use the network to help other women. When Sun Microsystems hosted the first WITI meeting, WITI was expecting about 50 women to show up. Instead, the room was overflowing with about 250-300 women and things just started spiraling out of control. In 1995 Leighton founded the annual WITI conference series to help actualize the ideals of WITI's mission.

At their first conference, WITI sold out the exhibit floor and had standing room only for their 1257 attendees. Gloria Steinem was secured as their first keynote speaker. Steinem challenged WITI attendees to use technology knowledge to make the world a better place.

By 1998, the WITI conference had become the world's first Women in Technology Summit hosted in the United States in the Silicon Valley.[citation needed] 5,000 women from around the world attended the 1998 Summit with the attendees sent by every major leading high-tech company based in the United States. There were also over one hundred members of the international media in attendance.

The keynote speakers at the Summit were the "Top Ten Women in Technology" chosen by American-based Working Woman and confirmed by WITI. The NBC Nightly News featured the 1998 WITI Women in Technology Summit on its evening broadcast. 2009 will mark the 15th Anniversary of the annual WITI conference series.

Currently WITI has regional networks in USA, Australia, Canada, China, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom. As of July 2005 it had 103,000 registered users.[2]

WITI governmental work[edit]

After the first conference, WITI partnered with the United States Federal Glass Ceiling Commission (under the Department of Labor) to work on their "Final Recommendations." WITI was able to influence the Commission to include verbiage about technology as a tool to break the glass ceiling in its "Final Recommendations."

The Commission mandated that its members carry out the recommendations of the Commission and serve as the agents of change the commission recommended. In the fall of 1995, Leighton organized a meeting in the Silicon Valley and invited Commission Deputy Director, Lisa Ross, to network with over 50 leaders from high-tech companies. The goal was to exchange information and resources between government and the private sector about Glass Ceiling issues. Leighton was able to get competitors to discuss some of their real world issues in front of each other.

After the Commission ended in the fall of 1995, the former Executive Director of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, Rene Redwood began a Keynote Address on June 5, 1996 this way: 'Good morning. [Thank you Donna Terazawa] and [Thank Carolyn Leighton and Julie Lubbering] and I extend warm appreciation to WITI for being a "Champion for Change."'[citation needed]

In 1997, WITI was invited to represent the United States abroad at the first "Vital Voices" conference hosted by Ambassador to Vienna Swanee Hunt and First Lady Hillary Clinton in Vienna. Under Leighton's guidance a very young member of the staff, Julie Lubbering, was sent to represent WITI in order to further Leighton's efforts to encourage the next generation of WITI leadership. The result was that WITI was able to have a "voice" in setting policy that women worldwide use science and technology as a tool towards Democracy as women approached the 21st century.

WITI Hall of Fame[edit]

The WITI Hall of Fame was established in 1996 to honor women for their outstanding contribution in science and technology.[3]

While collaborating with a WITI staff member about rewarding the achievements of women in science and technology, Leighton approached IBM corporation to sponsor the first WITI Women in Science and Technology Hall of Fame in 1996.

Over 1,000 people attended the first WITI Hall of Fame induction ceremony from the high-tech industry. Among the inductees to the WITI Hall of Fame's first class were Dr Sheila Widnall (Secretary of the Air Force) and Cheryl Shavers (General Manager at Intel Corporation).

Now in its 13th year, and with over sixty-five inductees, the WITI Hall of Fame has become the most distinguished award for women in science and technology from around the world.[citation needed] Since the WITI Hall of Fame is based, and was born in the USA, most of the inductees are currently living in the United States. However, the WITI Hall of Fame now has representatives from four continents.

The WITI Hall of Fame was conceptualized as a mechanism for women of the USA to show appreciation, friendship and to honor colleagues from around the world. The WITI Hall of Fame has also served as a valuable tool for US international outreach. For instance, in 2006, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi became the first French-born woman inducted to the WITI Hall of Fame with the Consulate General of France issuing a press release about her induction. Françoise is most noted for the role that she played in the initial identification of HIV-1 as the causative agent of AIDS.

At the first WITI Hall of Fame ceremony in 1996 the Vice President's office sent a fax of a letter from Vice President Gore, which was read at the first WITI Hall of Fame ceremony congratulating the winners. In 1997, the White House sent a letter from President Clinton to be read at the WITI Hall of Fame ceremony.

Vice President Gore remarked, "President Clinton and I share Women in Technology International's goal of women's full participation and excellence in science and technology."[citation needed]

President Clinton remarked, "As members of WITI and as leaders in the growing and innovative fields of science and technology, you play a crucial role in forging a bright future for our nation."[citation needed]

On June 12, 2017, WITI will hold a Hall of Fame awards ceremony at its Annual Women Powering Technology Summit at the Double Tree Hilton Hotel in San Jose, CA.[4]

At the second WITI Hall of Fame ceremony, industry leaders recognized the world's first programmers now called the "Women of the ENIAC," for the first time. The story is now a featured video on the WITI Web site.


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