Creating the Anita Borg Awards

By Kathy Richardson

Kathy Richardson

Kathy Richardson

Anita Borg was a friend, and an inspiration to women technologists and feminists working to improve women’s lives. She encouraged and challenging us to be more of both. I was instrumental in developing the Anita Borg awards to honor two of her passions.

Ellen Lapham and I wanted to recognize and foster the ideals Anita inspired in us. We each developed an award that spoke to us, whose award winners we could admire for their work and their contribution to their communities and the world.

As a technologist I really wanted to create a lifetime award that not only recognized outstanding technical contributions to computing, but also leadership in the community. The Anita Borg Technical Leadership Award this notion of leadership. It is not enough to be really smart, with a list of personal patents and papers; a leader inspires their colleagues, builds a community to expand and build related technology, fosters collaboration, and mentors junior colleagues to flourish in the field.

Trying to create something that I personally really cared about was scary. Being closely emotionally tied to a project, its acceptance and success become personal. One thing that really helped with that was having a partner with an equally strong personal vision wanting to create a complementary award. Fortunately we never believed that we needed to combine the two awards into one. This meant that the two of us could be fully committed to the pair of awards, selling the idea, and re-enforcing the goal of the dual awards to the Anita Borg Institute community.

However, things I really care about motivate me to do my best. It also motivates me to do things that I might not feel comfortable with. They often require me to stand up and be noticed and heard in a way that I’m not entirely comfortable with. But I make it through. You can too!

In creating the technical leadership award, I had to write a description of the award, work with others on creating the process for nomination, solicit nominations, create a committee, review nominations, select a winner, and make sure that this continued, and was workable. And of course get buy-in from the Anita Borg Institute leadership. They even took the awards to the board of trustees who signed up to fund the awards! This was great!

The first awards were given out in 2004. The 2012 Grace Hopper Celebration in Computing conference will announce the 7th award winners. The awards have gone from a concept to a experimental project, to a incubated project, and are now an integral component of the Anita Borg Institute, managed and driven forward by entirely new staff that see the awards as something critical to the Institute mission.

Each of the award winners inspires all of us to be a better leaders, technologists and leverage technology to improve women’s lives. Any one of the winners makes me feel proud to be in a community that honors these inspiring leaders. By announcing the award winners at the Grace Hopper Conference the award inspires the entire community.

I ask each of you to think of something you can do to inspire others to lead and build a better, stronger technology community.

One thought on “Creating the Anita Borg Awards

  1. I’m not sure how this happened, but it wasn’t until doing research for my contribution to Anita’s Quilt that I became aware of Anita’s passion for people to take on leadership responsibilities. As a repeat GHC attendee since 2008, I was fully aware of the Anita Borg Awards. But it was through the writings here that I came to grok that this was something Anita encouraged her personal community to do. Encouraging the community at large was the bonus and big picture part of the story.

    To that end, my take away from your action request is to encourage members of my community to lead and advocate for their leadership abilities. (Already have a mail in draft in my head to member of my network.) More importantly, I am taking this as a reminder of my own ripple in the community.

    Thank you Kathy for creating this particular award, and props to you and Ellen for supporting one another! 😀

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