FORTUNE – As innovative as Silicon Valley may be -- churning out fresh ideas, products, and services --when it comes to giving credit where it's due, women generally remain woefully under-recognized.
It's not overt sexism, so much as unconscious bias on the part of some people now, explains Megan Smith, vice president of Google X, the futuristic research lab developing not-so-secret projects like self-driving cars, Google Glass, the wearable computing device worn like eyewear, or Project Loon, a breathtakingly ambitious plan to bring 3G-level Internet connectivity to millions via thousands of solar-powered, high-pressure balloons navigating through Earth's stratosphere. Smith is one of over 50 women and men speaking at The MAKERS Conference this week, part of a larger initiative to tell women's stories.
One of the most egregious examples of such bias at work is a project that weds Hollywood and tech: the Steve Jobs biopic Jobs, with actor-turned-angel investor Ashton Kutcher. While early players in Apple's (AAPL) history, including co-founder Steve Wozniak and computer engineer Bill Atkinson, get screen time, other Macintosh pioneers, including Susan Kare, don't. "What was so special about the Mac we all know was the graphical computer interface," says Smith. Atkinson designed the behind-the-scenes software toolbox used for the early Mac's graphical interface, but Kare conceived of and designed virtually every Mac icon users saw and interacted with. Yet, nowhere in Jobs is Kare represented.
Over the last decade, Smith, an MIT-trained mechanical engineer, has carved out an impressive reputation. As VP of Google's (GOOG) New Business Development team for little more than nine years, she managed early partnerships and licensing and led acquisitions like Where 2Tech (now Google Maps) and Keyhole, better known these days as Google Earth. During Android's early days, it was Smith and her team who conducted the first deals with the handset makers and cell carriers. "I have a good eye for great projects, talent, and entrepreneurs," admits Smith, who qualifies herself as a catalyst: "I like to work at the beginning of projects. Once they get stable, I'll hand them off."
Smith's success on projects such as Android no doubt became deciding factors when Google co-founder Sergey Brin asked her to to join him at Google X, where she works closely with the Rapid Evaluation Team, a small group that tests out ideas seemingly far-fetched, yet potentially important ideas, like Project Loon. Such ideas have earned a nickname: "moonshots." "We very much use a prototyping model, play with ideas, and then get stuff started that way, which is how the greatest projects get started," says Smith. In addition, she focuses on Solve for X, a community of individuals and organizations that meet and collaborate on ways to speed up the progress of moonshots. Smith leads Solve for X with Google X director and scientist Astro Teller.
Smith also spends her time on Women Techmakers, a forum that works to improve the visibility of women leaders worldwide. Previous speakers have included Google ads chief turned YouTube head Susan Wojcicki and VMWare founder and ex-CEO Diane Greene. "You don't hear the back stories of a lot of these great leaders -- or even hear about them," sums up Smith.
But ongoing work like Smith's means that's changing, slowly, but surely.
Why did an angry letter from the FDA stop one of the hottest genetics companies in America?
By Ryan Bradley, senior editor
FORTUNE -- For $99, 23andMe will sell you a "DNA Spit Kit." It comes in a bright green box with an opening flap that reads "welcome to you." Inside is a barcode, which you register online, and a vial for you to hock some genetic material into. The kit MORENov 26, 2013 10:11 AM ET
Founder control has worked for the search giant. But that doesn't mean it is necessarily a better way.
FORTUNE -- You can't blame Google CEO Larry Page for not being consistent. As Google prepared to go public nine years ago, Page detailed in a letter to prospective investors the many ways in which Google would be unconventional. It would focus on users and on long-term results; it would have an unusual MOREMiguel Helft, senior writer - Jun 19, 2013 6:42 AM ET
The search giants collaborated with the feds after 9/11 on an electronic intelligence program.
By Tory Newmyer, writer
FORTUNE -- Google and Yahoo -- and the other tech giants stung by the recent news of their participation in government surveillance programs -- are in the midst of a public-relations offensive to steady suddenly wobbly reputations.
They're sounding a commiserating note, insisting they're just as confounded and concerned as many Americans by the MOREJun 17, 2013 11:41 AM ET
Some early reviews call Google Glass the future of computing. But even they say that future remains a little rough around the edges.
FORTUNE -- When I ask people outside Silicon Valley about Google Glass, the company's big play on wearable computing, I get a similar response: Sounds cool. Looks geeky.
"Ugh, I won't even think about wearing that thing until they ditch the god-awful Back to the Future look," a friend and MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - May 3, 2013 6:24 AM ET
Three of the Bay Area's marquee investment firms want to capture the most interesting ideas before they're hatched.
FORTUNE -- It was classic Sergey Brin. Dressed in sports shorts, an exercise shirt and blue Crocs, the Google co-founder showed up riding an elliptical bicycle, and as he does these days, wearing Glass, Google's futuristic wearable computer that fits on a head mounted display. Oh, and he was a few minutes late.
The MOREMiguel Helft, senior writer - Apr 10, 2013 5:00 PM ET
Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Yuri Milner, Art Levinson, and others form a new prize for health care breakthroughs.
By Kurt Wagner, reporter
FORTUNE -- Top decision-makers from Apple, Google, and Facebook were in agreement Wednesday afternoon: They want us all the live longer.
Some of Silicon Valley's most influential minds -- including Facebook (FB) founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google (GOOG) founder Sergey Brin -- announced a new award that MOREFeb 21, 2013 7:46 AM ET
Google CEO Larry Page envisions a future in which computers plan your vacations, drive your cars, and anticipate your whims. Audacious? Maybe. But Page's dreams have a way of coming true.
Note: On Jan 3, as Fortune published this article, the Federal Trade Commission ended its investigation of Google's search practices saying it found no evidence that the company manipulated search results in violation of antitrust laws. The European Commission and MOREMiguel Helft, senior writer - Jan 3, 2013 5:00 AM ET
Fortune's curated selection of tech stories from the last 24 hours. Sign up to get the round-up delivered to you each and every day.
"Regardless of how you feel about digital ecosystems or about Google, please do not take the free and open internet for granted from government intervention. To the extent that free flow of information threatens the powerful, those in power will seek to suppress it." -- Google co-founder Sergey Brin (Google+)
* MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Apr 19, 2012 3:30 AM ET
Fortune's curated selection of tech stories from the weekend. Sign up to get the round-up delivered to you each and every day.
* Sony (SNE) hasn't had a hit product in years, and expects to lose $6.4 billion this year alone. The New York Times offers an excellent look at Japanese giant's fall from grace. (The New York Times)
* Google (GOOG) co-founder Sergey Brin believes the Internet's underlying principles -- openness and universal access -- are being threatened MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Apr 16, 2012 11:16 AM ET
|Ousted Yahoo exec gets $58 million golden parachute|
|Canadians arrest a Heartbleed hacker|
|Hybrid laundromat-cafes are popping up across the country|
|The real economy is finally doing better than the money economy|
|Nearly 2 million homeowners no longer 'seriously' underwater|