Siri, Tell Me the Names of Some Women Leaders in Tech

A pitiful number of Americans can name female tech leaders beyond Siri and Alexa, so we're stepping in to help.
Blog Post
April 13, 2018

Quick, name a female leader in the tech sector. 

If you're like most American consumers, you might find that to be a nearly impossible challenge. In one of Ian Bremmer's recent posts, he cites some disturbing statistics: A recent study of 1,000 American consumers found that only 8.3 percent said they could name a famous female tech leader. Of that 8.3 percent, only 4 percent could - and of that 4 percent, a quarter named "Siri" or "Alexa."

Depressing, right? We'd like to help reduce this knowledge deficit by putting forth a list of female tech leaders who have inspired us. (Be sure also to check out Lawfare’s excellent list of female tech experts). Below, we've gathered a few nominations from the New America network:


Joy Buolamwini is an entrepreneur and proclaimed “poet of code” on a mission to show compassion through computation. I was first inspired by Joy after meeting her as a student at our alma mater, Georgia Tech, where she earned her degree in Computer Science. She went on to become a Rhodes Scholar, a Fulbright Fellow, and a Google Anita Borg Scholar, to name just a few of her prestigious accomplishments. Now, as a graduate researcher at the MIT Media Lab, she is leading the fight to end coded bias as the founder of The Algorithmic Justice League. In her words, she fights the 'coded gaze,' a term used to describe the discrimination that is embedded in the technologies we create, based on the prejudices of the past, if we're not intentional and careful about the data we use. Joy’s work is remarkable in that she is able to seamlessly highlight the work of diverse creators of technology while driving forward innovative research at the intersection of social impact technology and inclusion. Joy’s TED Talk on fighting bias in algorithms has been viewed nearly a million times (let’s get her over the 1 million mark!) and her short documentary “The Coded Gaze: Unmasking Algorithmic Bias” debuted at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Her work speaks for itself, so much so that I am confident that in just a short time, less people will be naming “Siri” and “Alexa” as their female tech inspirations, and more people will be saying "Joy."

--Dillon Roseen, Millennial Public Policy Fellow

Ambassador Marina Kaljurand was serving as the Estonian Ambassador to Russia during the 2007 attacks that overwhelmed Estonian websites from banks to newspapers to government institutions. Ambassador Kaljurand led the diplomatic efforts to coordinate with the Russian government to identify the source of the attacks. One imagines this was neither a comfortable nor an especially routine process. The attacks were, as she refers to them, "a wake-up call" to the global community, demonstrating states'—and economies'—vulnerability to emerging disruptive capacity. That lesson clearly stayed with her as she progressed through her career, serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs and running for President. She has also been appointed twice as Estonia's National Expert to the UNGGE and now chairs the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace. In addition to her outstanding work in international cybersecurity and technology policy, Ambassador Kaljurand is a campaigner for gender equality, saying that “we who have achieved some position have the obligation to be supportive and to speak on behalf of young women.”

--Laura Bate, Senior Program Associate, Cybersecurity Initiative

The emergence of cryptocurrencies as a serious asset class and blockchain technology as a serious force for digital transformation is owed in no small measure to technology leaders like Sandra Ro. Sandra, the former head of digitization at CME Group, was the chief architect of CME Group’s digital asset, blockchain and distributed ledger initiatives. Her leadership culminated in CME Group’s bitcoin futures offering, which helped pave the way for broader capital market and regulatory adoption of cryptocurrencies in 2017. As the newly appointed CEO of the Global Blockchain Business Council, the preeminent blockchain industry association, Sandra Ro is leading the charge to normalize blockchain’s adoption across industries and around the world. An avid fintech entrepreneur, investor and change agent, Sandra was named to the Innovate Finance, Women in Fintech Power List in 2016.  She is involved in numerous boards and technology initiatives globally. She is also the co-founder of UWINCorp, where she is working on a blockchain-based asset registry and trading marketplace focusing on physical commodity markets. With more than 15 years of global capital markets, derivatives and market infrastructure experience, Sandra’s investments focus on the future of money via technology.  

--Dante Disparte, Fellow, Bretton Woods II

When thinking about inspirational figures, a number of women come to mind - especially in aviation.  As a child, that was a passion that got me interested in science and technology.  In the world of spaceflight, Retired United States Air Force Colonel Eileen Collins was unique in her command and leadership role. A test pilot by training (and the Air Force's first female flight instructor), Collins is known for being the first woman to pilot and command the space shuttle.  Notably, Collins was chosen to command Shuttle Discovery for NASA's return to flight after the Columbia disaster. On that flight, Collins guided the spacecraft through a full 360° pitch (nose-over-tail) maneuver—the first person to do so with an orbiter—which allowed ISS crew members to photograph the spacecraft’s belly for possible damage.  Since retirement, Collins has been inducted into the National Women's Hall Of Fame and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

--Natasha Cohen, Fellow, Cybersecurity Initiative

My tech heroines come from the Ivory Tower rather than from Silicon Valley or Washington. What Judith Shklar once was for the Harvard Government department as its first tenured female faculty member, Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences Barbara Grosz was for Engineering and Computer Science at Harvard. Barbara studied mathematics as an undergraduate and computer science as a graduate student at a time of tremendous discrimination against women, and like Shklar, she prevailed by being twice as smart as her male colleagues and persisting despite obstacles.  Barbara is currently a leading light in artificial intelligence research and has blazed a trail for many other women, whom she has mentored with great kindness and insight. I am personally grateful to her for connecting me with remarkable colleagues at the Santa Fe Institute, and we are currently working together on a workshop that will explore the dark side of AI and a big data world and potential remedies for the ethical challenges both generate.  

One of Barbara’s former students, Martha Pollack, who presently serves as the President of Cornell University, is my second nominee.  While we have only swapped emails, I have admired her leadership of Cornell from afar, and we certainly share a connection in our admiration for Barbara.  Needless to say, Barbara did a tremendous job launching Martha and many other female techies into the larger world. Their journeys have already inspired the next generation and will continue to do so.

--Allison Stanger, Scholar in Residence, Cybersecurity Initiative

My personal female tech heroes are women like Reshma Saujani (the founder of Girls Who Code), Kimberly Bryant (founder of Black Girls Code) and New America Cybersecurity Fellow Ashley Podhradsky (founder of CybHER). I know Ashley a bit, but I have never met Reshma or Kimberly. What they all have in common is that they have stepped up and built organizations that give girls a taste of the opportunities of computer science.  Through classes, camps and an increasing range of other initiatives these organizations are showing girls of various ages that they can have the power to make technology themselves, and potentially pursue that academically or even professionally.

As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about how to have scalable impact in the tech space, their achievements are extraordinary. It is no small thing to establish and run non-profits, let alone for those organizations to go on to positively affect the lives of hundreds and thousands of girls.  Nor are these women limited in their ambitions – my two daughters (a first grader and a kindergartener) have come to coding through a series Girls Who Code chapter books that depicts the adventures of Lucy, an African-American middle schooler and self-proclaimed ‘geek’, and her coding club friends.  At their own initiative, these books have become required bedtime reading in our house, and now they are clamoring to be allowed to follow in the footsteps of Lucy and her friends by learning coding and going to coding camps.

I have no idea what my girls will do with their lives. If it does not involve tech, and they are happy, that is totally fine. But thanks to women like Reshma, Kimberly, Ashley and others like them, at least it will not be because they did not consider coding ‘cool’ or ‘only for boys’. For that reason are they my inspiration and, I hope, an inspiration for other to build on and grow what they have started.

--Ian Wallace, Director, Cybersecurity Initiative

Naomi Seligman has been a close personal friend and mentor of mine for over a decade.  She is currently a senior partner of Ostriker von Simson a consultancy which also directed the CIO Strategy Exchange, a private sector “think tank” that regularly brings together four vital quadrants of the ever-changing IT sector: establishment CEOs from the most important technology companies, entrepreneurs introducing highly innovative products and services, premier venture capitalists and the CIOs of the largest multinational enterprises. Through four powerful waves of technology, she has been an intellectual focal point for an ongoing dialogue between these sectors.  Ms Seligman currently serves on the boards of two major technology firms: Akamai and Oracle. Over the years, she has been a Director and Board member of many large and small technology companies, as well as Dun and Bradstreet, a 175 year old company that employed three U.S. Presidents. She is a Chair of the Governance Committee at the School of American Ballet and Vice Chair of New Leaders for New Schools.  She was also a co-founder of the Research Board, which conducted IT investigations sponsored by 100 senior executives from the largest enterprises in North America and Europe. And she is a limited partner in several major venture capital firms. One of her mentor's was the famous Grace Hopper (!) and I hope one day she shares that story.

--Nicole Becher, Fellow, Cybersecurity Initiative

Deidre Diamond is the founder and CEO of, a cybersecurity staffing and research firm.  She is also the founder of #BrainBabe, which is working to increase gender diversity in cybersecurity.  Prior to founding CyberSN, she was CEO of Percussion Software, VP of Sales at Rapid7 and VP of Staffing and Recruiting for the national technical staffing company Motion Recruitment. Deidre understands that we are in a cyber security hiring crisis and we need to promote women to help meet the demand. At CyberSN, their mission is “to dramatically decrease the frustration, time and cost associated with job search for Cyber Security Professionals.” With over 20 years of experience in technology and cybersecurity Deidre has the skills necessary to help close the cyber gap.  Recently Deidre spoke at Women in CyberSecurity (WiCyS) and provided countless resources to the audience to help them advance their careers. She can do the same for you!

--Ashley Podhradsky, Fellow, Cybersecurity Initiative

Virtually no one has shaped my view of cybersecurity policy and privacy in the way Susan Landau has. Dr. Landau is currently the Bridge Professor of Cybersecurity at Tufts University. Her career in technology is fascinating  – a decade doing security for Sun Microsystems and later serving as Senior Staff Privacy Analyst at Google  – and she has been both an influential practitioner as well as an authoritative scholar.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, she has received almost every technology-related award that is imaginable. She is a member of the Cybersecurity Hall of Fame, has been a Guggenheim fellow, a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and a fellow with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). Her newest book – "Listening In: Cybersecurity in an Insecure Age"  – is an important and wide-ranging resource. Her previous books –"Surveillance or Security? The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies" and "Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption" – written with crypto-pioneer Whitfield Diffie, are incredibly important encapsulations of the social, legal, and privacy implications of these technologies. Dr. Landau is a preeminent voice in the field in of cybersecurity, and she serves equally as an inspiration to technologists, to scholars, and to privacy advocates.

--Brian H. Nussbaum, Fellow, Cybersecurity Initiative

Wendy Pfeiffer has been described as, “the Oprah of CIOs” by her team.  She’s a self-proclaimed badass and currently leads a diverse global information technology team as the CIO at Nutanix.  Wendy has also led technology teams at GoPro, Yahoo!, Cisco Systems, Exodus Communications and Robert Half. She is passionate about pioneering the consumerization of IT.

Wendy currently serves on the board of directors for Girls in Tech, and she's a jill of technology trades, including serving as a mentor and volunteering, active blog writer on LinkedIn, as well as a strategic advisor, and keynote speaker.  She’s a lover of learning, isn’t afraid to fail and is a believer in being her true authentic self.

--Sebastian Goodwin, Fellow, Cybersecurity Initiative