Supporting Underrepresented Groups

by Valerie Taylor

Valerie Taylor

Valerie Taylor


I can recall meeting Anita Borg for the first time when I was in graduate school. She visited UC Berkeley in 1988 as part of a WICSE (Women in Computer Science and Engineering) lunch at the invitation of Sheila Humphrys. Anita talked about her research in Operating Systems and the initiative to start the systers listserv. She told the story of how systers was started with all of the women at the conference meeting in the bathroom. After that lunch, I immediately joined systers.

Anita and I had an opportunity to meet again six years later when I visited DEC WRL in Palo Alto to ask some research questions about the DEC Alpha chip. I was an assistant professor at Northwestern University at that time. Prior to that meeting I had distributed an email on systers listserv about starting a “systers-of-color” listserv within systers to focus on minority women in computing. The goal of this listserv was to provide a forum for minority women to discuss issues particular to the group without having to provide an explanation about the issues. Such issues include greater levels of isolation, tokenism, scarcity of role models/mentors, and lack of access to influential networks. I was surprised at the level of pushback that we received about starting this subgroup. Anita intervened on our behalf to indicate that just like the systers listserv was started to bring women together to discuss issues unique to women, so to was the systers-of-color listserv started for issues unique to women of color. The pushback stopped immediately.

During the meeting at DEC WRL in 1994, two things happened. First I had an opportunity to meet with the architect of the DEC Alpha chip to get my questions answered related to my research on sparse matrix computations. Second, Anita invited me to lead a birds-of-a-feather session on women of color at the first Grace Hopper Celebration in Washington, DC that June. I accepted with great excitement. We had approximately 10 to 15 participants attend the BoF and the bonding was great. We launched the systers-of-color listserv.

The women of color in computing continued organizing BoF sessions at Hopper 1997, Hopper 2000, and Hopper 2002. The attendance at these sessions was growing with each conference. For Hopper 2004, which was held in Chicago, we held our first Women of Color luncheon. The attendance was approximately 200 participants. This was excellent. The Hopper Conference has continued having the Women of Color lunches each year. In 2007, the Latinas in Computing group was started. In 2011, the Black Women in Computing group was started. Then in 2012, the two groups, along with representatives from other women’s groups, with leadership from the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in IT (CMD-IT), organized the first Women of Underrepresented Groups one-day track. Anita’s impact of supporting the systers-of-color listserv has had a major impact on many women from underrepresented groups.

The growth to the Women of Underrepresented Groups in Computing has paralleled my growth with the Grace Hopper Conference. As mentioned above, I started working with the Hopper Conference as a leader of the BoF on Women of Color for Hopper 1994, the first Hopper Conference. For the second Hopper Conference in 1997 in San Jose, I was asked to be a part of the program committee, for which I happily accepted. I was then asked to be the Program Chair for Hopper 2000 in Cape Code. I went on to be the General Chair of Hopper 2002 in Vancouver, the first Hopper outside of the United States. I then handled fundraising for Hopper 2004, which was held in Chicago.

My growth with the Hopper Conference, in particular my close interactions with Anita Borg and Telle Whitney, helped me in many different ways. First, the leadership experiences with the Hopper conferences have been invaluable. Second, the personal interactions with Anita and Telle have been phenomenal. They are exceptional role models and inspirational leaders. Lastly, the exposure to senior women in academia and industry through the Hopper Conferences has been very rewarding. This exposure led to me becoming a Department Head and helping to co-found the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference Series. Now my role as Executive Director of CMD-IT, in addition to be a professor at Texas A&M University, is enhanced by my continued relationship with Telle.

I really miss Anita, especially her great support and significant encouragement to do bold things. As my way of continuing Anita’s spirit, I want to encourage and support you in your efforts to do bold things that will have a significant impact and inspire others.

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