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A workshop designed to boost natural disaster preparation and relief

While Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the North Carolina coast, I was privileged to help host a workshop designed in part to boost natural disaster preparation and relief. The Women & Girls Call for Code Labs and CEO Roundtable took place at the IBM’s New York City office and brought together a group of professional women for hands-on labs and discussion with business leaders. IBM invited guests from many of our key clients, including Disney, Coca-Cola, Toyota, Alaska Airlines, AARP, Unilever, UPS, Public Sector, T-Mobile, and more.

The workshop had two goals:

  • Increase corporate involvement in our Call for Code initiative
  • Support the UN Sustainable Development Goal of increasing gender parity by 2030

The afternoon kicked off with a talk by Angel Diaz, IBM VP Developer Technology & Advocacy. Angel spoke about Call for Code, a multi-year global initiative that gives developers the opportunity to use their coding skills to drive positive and long-lasting change across the world. The inaugural Call for Code Challenge theme is a timely one: “Natural Disaster Preparedness and Relief.” We also heard from Bobbie Cochrane, IBM Senior Research Scientist, on what led her to switch from a music major to computer science, and how blockchain networks and distributed ledger technologies drastically change the way we work with data.

New technology, new thinking

We then worked through two labs to show how easy it is to create applications to help with disaster recovery. The first lab simulated using drones to fly over areas affected by disasters and use visual recognition to identify areas in need. In our scenario we trained Watson to recognize the difference between burned and undamaged homes, which could be used when the area is still unsafe to enter.

The second lab used Natural Language Understanding to analyze news articles for sentiment. You could use NLU to track whether the situation in a particular area is improving or declining (for example, in the Puerto Rico hurricane aftermath).

I had a blast working through the labs with our client from Disney, who is responsible for the technology behind things like the FastPass process that lets you reserve access to Disney attractions in advance. Imagine implementing that sort of crowd-flow technology for people evacuating from a major city. I also learned about IBM’s Consulting By Degrees program, which provides focused training, one-on-one mentoring, career guidance, and practical experience to high performing new talent, giving them rotational assignments for the first few months of employment. These future leaders were working on projects like a kiosk to help NYC homeless find accommodations.

Photo of the author at NYC Call for Code and Leadership lab

Towards gender parity

To support the gender parity goal, we hosted a CEO panel led by the “CEO whisperer,” Robert Reiss. He kicked things off by providing an incredible stat: only 4.8 percent of CEOs are women — and there are more CEOs named “John” than there are women CEOs! In the tech sector, that percentage is even smaller. Robert then interviewed an incredible group of women, who offered us candid advice on the issues facing female leaders and CEOs.

Poster for Leadership Panel Forum

The panel touched on vital themes, included providing “freedom within frames” — you set the strategy and goals for a team and then get out of the way. I loved hearing Otis Elevator President Judy Marks talk about her desire to someday hear “my grandmother worked here” at Otis, and Dr. Chantal Line Carpentier‘s idea of “disposable time,” where you get your employees so passionate about their mission that they want to spend their free time working on it.

Sharon Price John and Mani Dasgupta urged us to get comfortable with discomfort: if you’re comfortable, you need to take risks and push forward. Sharon explained how women generally only apply to jobs for which they have 100% of the qualifications, whereas men only think they need 60%. Her message was clear — women need to speak up and not be afraid to ask for what they want to advance their careers.

Passion, purpose, service

All the speakers stressed the importance of following your passion, and connecting your work to a greater purpose. This leads us back to IBM’s Call for Code initiative. IBM is proud to be the leading board organization co-hosting the United Nations Summit and leading the Call for Code event. We are also proud of our continued commitment to women and girls in STEM and working with our clients and partners towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 through collaborative innovation.

IBMers are making a difference, to our clients and to our communities. Each day, we embody our principles of impeccable client service delivered through the IBM Way, global citizenship, and diversity and inclusion. We strive to make a positive impact where we live and work, and to offer a helping hand whenever people need it. And by ensuring women and girls play an equal role in technical and business innovation, we’re leading the way to a better, more inclusive future.

The Women & Girls Call for Code and CEO Round Table kicked off the Annual United Nations Empowering Women & Girls 2030 Summit held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Special thanks to Jen Crozier, President, IBM Foundation; Rana Novack, Communications, Wendy Heller and Cary Ellexson, Marketing, and Kim Smith, Vice President, IBM Global Business Services; and the entire Consulting by Design volunteer team for their stellar collaboration with the Call for Code team to make this event possible.

Next: Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll share insights and inspiration from this year’s IDEAGEN Summit.


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