The Evolution of Women in Tech

Posted 2017-03-14

Women in Tech are far more common today than they were years ago, however women are still heavily underrepresented in the industry. With just 17% of tech jobs occupied by women and fewer than 1 in 10 of those in leadership positions, the statistics are alarming. As someone that works for a tech start up with a female CEO, that to me is the norm, I was then shocked when I read that only 20% of tech founders are women. Only 20%…. I’ll let that sink in for a little bit.

‘So, what can we do to make a change?’ I hear you cry… well, we can do a lot! What we do today will lead the way for our children and future generations. As women in tech, we have a role to play in encouraging other women to join our technology journey. With the world celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8th, I wanted to reflect on the pioneering of Women in Tech, who broke down those early barriers and lead the way changes we’ve seen so far:

1. Ada Lovelace

Though she earned little public recognition during her lifetime, Ada Lovelace is now considered a pioneer and prophet of the computer age. Ada Lovelace is the founder of scientific computing and the first computer programmer. Lovelace’s algorithm was intended to be used by Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, sadly Ada would not see this built during her lifetime. Ada passed away in 1852, but her previously unknown work and poetic approach to science has come to inspire many young women today.

2. Sister Mary Kenneth Keller

Sister Mary Kenneth Keller was the first woman to receive a PhD in Computer Science. Sister Mary received her B.S./M.S. Mathematics from DePaul University in Chicago and briefly studied at Dartmouth, breaking their “men-only” rule! Whilst there, Sister Mary played a significant role developing a key computer language: Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, or BASIC. In 1965, Sister Mary received her PhD from the University of Wisconsin. Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa hired her to create and chair their Computer Science Department, where she continued to expand upon and share her knowledge for the next 20 years.

3. Women of ENIAC

As part of a secret World War II project, six young women pioneered the first all-electronic programmable computer. They were Betty Jean Jennings Bartik, Kathleen McNulty, Mauchly Antonelli, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum, Frances Bilas Spence, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer and Frances Snyder Holberton. The project was eventually introduced to the public in 1946, although the women were never introduced or credited for their hard work. Since then, the ENIAC Programmers Project has worked hard to preserve and tell the stories of these six women. In 1997, they were inducted into the Women in Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame.

4. Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper was a computer scientist, a Yale PhD and United States Navy Rear Admiral who also—on top of everything else—helped pioneer computer programming.  One of the crowning achievements of her 44-year career was the development of computer languages written in English, rather than mathematical notation. Most notably, the common business computing language known as COBOL, which is still in use today. In 1991, she was awarded the National Medal of Technology which is the highest honour within Engineering and Technology that the United States recognise and present. Grace’s legacy is honoured by the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference.

5. Edith Clarke

Edith Clarke was a pioneering electrical engineer at the turn of the 20th century. Many would say she worked as a “computer”, a person or persons who performed difficult mathematical calculations – before modern-day computers and calculators were invented. Edith struggled to find work as a female engineer at first, but later became the first ever professionally employed female electrical engineer in the United States in 1922. She paved the way for women in STEM and engineering and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015.

6. Anita Borg

Anita Borg combined her technical expertise, fearless vision and driving motivation to get where she is today. She is the founder of Syster online community, a leader in the space and pioneer of female online communities. As well as founding the Institute for Women and Technology and being commissioned by former President Clinton in 1999 on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science Engineering and Technology, she continues to serve on the committee of National Research Council on Women in Science and Engineering.

  7. Sally Ride

On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride transformed history when she became the first American woman to fly into space. After her second shuttle flight, Ride decided to retire from NASA and pursue her passion for education by inspiring young people. As a result, she founded  Sally Ride Science, an organisation dedicated to supporting students interested in STEM. Sadly, Sally passed away in 2012, but her work continues to inspire young women across the world.

8. Mary Lou Jepsen

Mary Lou Jepsen is widely known for her One Laptop Per Child project. Jepsen believed that everyone should have access to a computer, so utilising her expertise in both computer science and running a non-profit organisation, she created a low cost and low power laptop to send out to third world countries. It’s the greenest and cheapest laptop ever made. Now, over 2.4 million children and teachers have her to thank. Today she is still going strong and is continuing to grow her company. In 2008 she was named in The Times as one of the top 100 most influential people.

9. Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer is Google’s first female engineer (and Google employee number 20), having joined the search-engine superstar back in 1999 when it was still am early start-up. Now Vice President of location and local services, Mayer leads product management and engineering for a variety of search products, including Google Maps, Local Search, Google Earth, Street View and Latitude. Her talents in user interface design and product vision have helped keep Google at the top as a leading web, mobile and search company.

These women have made their mark on the technology world in big ways and many will continue to do so as long as the tech world continues to grow and encourage women to thrive.

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