Gunn delivered the keynote address at the official launch of the IU Center of Excellence for Women in Technology on Monday in the IU Auditorium.
The talk, titled “Life Choices in a Digitally Connected World,” focused on technology’s growing influence and how women’s strengths should be harnessed and taken advantage of in the technology field.
A former NASA computer scientist and engineer, Gunn is host of the NPR show “Tech Nation” and its regular segment BioTech Nation.
She was also the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Purdue University.
Gunn has a saying on her radio show: “If God didn’t make it, it’s technology.”
She explained most people do not realize how broad of a field technology is and what effect it has on society.
After she received her Ph.D., Gunn said she expected her accomplishment to “open the floor for women’s involvement in technology.”
However, the next woman to receive a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering did not graduate until 17 years later.
Gunn said the underrepresentation of women in technology could lead to a flaw in design of new innovation because the designs won’t represent all stakeholders.
Gunn also noted though people often avoid the subject, there are neurological differences between men and women that can affect their involvement in the technology field.
While men tend to use the left side of their brains, which includes language and math skills, women tend to be dominantly right-brained, which includes art, science and perception skills.
She said the CEWiT program could use these differences to its benefit.
“This program needs to find things that women are good at that contribute to the whole,” Gunn said.
Though technology has been considered a “traditionally male-skilled career,” Gunn said employers need to take advantage of the skill set women have to offer.
For example, women tend to be better at perception and working in teams.
Gunn said in addition to a shortage of women, female hesitation to try new things is a problem in the field today.
“For all those people who are going to do something for the first time, they risk not being accepted,” Gunn said. “You have to see your abilities, see your opportunity, and not worry if you are accepted or not.”
Gunn said she was hopeful programs like CEWiT would be beneficial to women in technology.
Jaclyn Nora, a senior studying information and process management, attended the Monday lecture and said she was impressed with Gunn’s experiences.
“I thought it was inspirational to see someone who has done a lot of innovative things as a woman in the field,” Nora said. “That’s what I see as the biggest challenge as I go into this field is being innovative.”
The talk also included remarks from Provost Lauren Robel, who said she has been a strong supporter of CEWiT and women’s involvement in the technology field.
“Technology seems almost recession-proof,” Robel said. “This is an area of high demand, high growth and extreme potential, and women deserve to be on the table.”
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