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Awards celebrate ‘bold, brave’ women in tech

The New Mexico Technology Council gave a hearty shout out to all women to “Be Bold, Be Brave and Be You” during its 13th annual “Women in Technology” awards on June 10.

The annual event, which this year honored seven women for their achievements, aims to encourage all women, especially younger ones, to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, said Tech Council Executive Director Deborah Breitfeld.

“This year’s theme – ‘Be Bold, Be Brave, Be You’ – was inspired by the incredible accomplishments and contributions of today’s honorees,” Breitfeld told participants during the online ceremony. “These women have all been bold and brave in their respective fields and have created opportunities for others through their work as managers, mentors and STEM advocates. By highlighting their work, we hope to encourage all women to choose to be bold and brave and to aim high and refuse to be limited by outdated expectations.”

The annual celebration, which launched in 2009, has to date recognized more than 100 women in STEM fields, not only for achieving outstanding success in their careers, but for working to inspire others through volunteer efforts, community service and mentorship of other women, Breitfeld said.

The event took place online for the second year in a row due to the pandemic. The award ceremony itself was streamed live, with Albuquerque-based Heritage Audio Visual managing logistics. But Heritage pre-produced biographical videos of the honorees and their acceptance speeches.

“The Women in Technology awards elevate the careers of women,” honoree Jessica DuVerneay, a design director with Albuquerque data analytics firm RS21, told event participants in her acceptance speech. “It gives them a platform to be heard, seen, and, most importantly, to lead.”

Pamela Koster, CEO of Santa Fe-based software-as-a-service firm Falling Colors, said women in technology have come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go.

“When I first started, I was always the only woman at the table,” Koster said in her acceptance speech. “It takes boldness to change … and the only way we’re going to get there is supporting each other, as exemplified by this award.”

Overall, opportunities for women to pursue STEM careers are growing, especially as successful women like the Technology Council’s honorees help blaze new paths forward as role models and advocates who inspire and mentor younger people, Breitfeld said.

“The perception is changing as we see more and more young women getting into STEM fields at an earlier age,” Breitfeld said. “Educational institutions are working to get students involved at younger ages. And more businesses and other entities are working to hire women and build the female workforce.”

UNM Economic Development Officer Lisa Kuuttila, who heads the university’s “Rainforest Innovations” tech-transfer office, also said a lot has changed since she started her career at Stanford University in 1982.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of progress, such as in the number of women faculty and graduate students doing research at universities,” Kuuttila told the Journal. “And on the business side, there are many more women now heading up engineering and research at companies.”

To highlight that progress, Rainforest Innovations held an all-women “innovation showcase” two days before the Women in Technology event, with six female professors and researchers discussing new technology they helped create as lead inventors at UNM.

Although women haven’t yet achieved parity with men in STEM fields, there are fewer barriers now for young women than in the past, Kuuttila said.

Indeed, the 2021 edition of “Best Cities for Women in Technology,” an annual report published in February by the financial research and consulting firm SmartAsset, shows important progress in Albuquerque, which ranked ninth best among 63 cities surveyed in 2020.

The report shows Albuquerque has the fifth-smallest gender pay gap compared with other cities, with women here making about 95 cents for every dollar that male co-workers receive. That compares to a national average of 83 cents for every dollar earned by male counterparts.

Women in Albuquerque also made up 30.6% of the city’s tech workforce last year, up from 27.3% five years ago. In contrast, women nationally make up just 26.1% of the tech workforce, according to SmartAsset.

Apart from Jessica DuVerneay and Pamela Koster, this year’s Women in Technology honorees also include:

• Sandra Begay, an engineer and member of Sandia National Laboratories’ technical staff

• Stefany Goradia, vice president of health analytics at RS21

• Shelly Gruenig, CEO and executive director of Be Greater Than Average and R4 Creating

• Lorie Liebrock, computer science and engineering professor at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

• Tara King, developer outreach manager with software and web design company Pantheon

The last awardee, Tara King, received Women in Technology’s first-ever “Emerging Leader Award.” The Tech Council created that new award category to honor young, up-and-coming women in STEM fields.

“The nomination applications we get tend to reflect women who are more advanced in their careers with phenomenal, pioneering achievements,” Breitfeld said. “But there are a lot of younger women without the same credentials, so we’re now doing an annual emerging-leader award to recognize some of those women.”

The awards also included a $5,000 scholarship, sponsored by Nusenda Credit Union, for Vivianne Gonzalez, a University of New Mexico computer science major who teaches computer literacy and provides mentorship through the Youth Leadership Program run by Mana de Albuquerque.

Kevin Robinson-Avila covers technology, energy, venture capital and utilities for the Journal. He can be reached at krobinson-avila@abqjournal.com.

 




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