Let’s talk about women in tech.
The widely accepted number when it comes to women in tech is 30%. Pretty bad – but it gets worse. Consider women of colour or LGBTQ women and the number drops. Look at the number of those identifying as women who hold technical roles, or those in leadership positions, and it again gets dramatically lower.
So why are the numbers so low?
Thankfully, we’re working towards a better landscape for women in tech. Organisations like Girls Who Code are making real strides, while tech giants like Google and Facebook are pledging to diversify their workforces. Unfortunately, it takes time.
One thing we can do right now is highlight some of the role models making waves in the tech word, both past and present. In this post, meet just some of the wonderful women of tech.
1. Ada Lovelace
Let’s start at, arguably, the beginning.
The daughter of Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Byron, Ada Lovelace had famous parents, but she proved herself in her own right.
Ada Lovelace was close friends with Charles Babbage, who of course is famous for his plans for the Analytical Engine, a device that was never built but would essentially have been a modern computer. While Babbage had sketched out programs for this engine before, it was Lovelace who expanded on those plans.
Her articles contained the most elaborate and complete early computer programs, and her notes contained the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine.
That’s right: Ada Lovelace was the first programmer.
Without Lovelace, technological advances would have been considerably delayed. A century on, her notes were just as groundbreaking as ever, and proved absolutely critical to Alan Turing’s work on the first computers in the 1940s.
If Lovelace’s father, Lord Byron, gets his own term – ‘Byronic’, aka the dark, brooding, mysterious hero – then Ada Lovelace deserves something similar. I’m putting forward “Lovelacesque”: the smart, unstoppable computer genius working ahead of her time.
2. Hedy Lamarr
Remember when #Ilooklikeanengineer was trending on social media? It came about a little after Hedy Lamarr’s time, but she was proving the same point: there’s no one way a “woman in tech” should look.
Lamarr was famous for being a beautiful movie star in the 1920s, but in fact, Lamarr also played a key role in the invention of spread-spectrum technology – specifically, she conceptualized “frequency hopping”, a method of sending radio signals from different frequency channels. It was an early form of encryption technology originally developed to help the Navy remotely control torpedoes.
In short: Hedy Lamarr essentially invented WiFi. Where would we be without her?
In 1997, Hedy Lamarr was awarded the Pioneer Award by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in recognition of her work – “about time”, in her own words. This was just three years before she died aged 85. That’s one serious delay, but it does show the shift towards recognising rather than repressing the work women have done and are doing in tech.
3. Fran Bagenal
Talk about inspiration: the New Horizons mission, an interplanetary space probe launched as a part of NASA’s New Frontiers program, had the most women of any team in NASA’s history. New Horizons was a groundbreaking mission, responsible for the first colour footage of Pluto and its moons we’ve ever had. Every woman who was part of the New Horizons mission is a true pioneer and role model, but it’s Fran Bagenal who gets the honourable mention. As team leader, she’s been working on NASA missions for four decades.
In that time, she’s seen a dramatic change from the days when women were “routinely mistaken for secretaries”, and nowhere is this more evident than the make up of the New Horizons mission team. A change in the right direction, for sure.
4. Caterina Fake
Caterina Fake could do some serious name dropping, were she so inclined.
As well as co-founding the photo hosting site Flickr, Caterina Fake co-founded the social search engine Hunch, the startup Findery, is on the board of directors of Creative Commons and is Chairman of the Board of Etsy.
As if that’s not enough, she still finds the time to advise many startups and new businesses. Fake is considered a top angel investor – especially impressive in the tech world, where capital and investment disproportionately goes to white men.
5. Melinda Gates
Melinda Gates is doing what so many tech companies seem to struggle with: putting her money where her mouth is. When it comes to women in tech, she’s not just talking the talk, but is walking the walk.
As co-founder of the world’s largest private philanthropy, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda Gates has already done a huge amount of good. She’s now taking her philanthropic efforts even further. In a recent interview with Backchannel, Gates described how she is currently in the process of, “building up a personal office to dedicate resources and attention to an issue of central personal importance: getting more women into tech — and helping them stay there.”
We’ve already mentioned how the number of women pursuing careers in tech is worrying; in saying that, it’s just as important to note that the number of women staying in tech is even lower. That’s why work like Melinda Gates’, dedicated to gathering the data necessary to start creating a more welcoming tech environment, one that will encourage and retain women, is so noteworthy. After all, research shows that by the mid-career mark, while 72% of men stay in tech roles, a mere 44% of women stay in the tech industry.
Why is that? Again, the answers are likely to be deep-rooted and complex, but investigating the reasons as Melinda Gates is determined to is a major step forward. And celebrating the women doing the work today and those who paved the way is vital.
As Gates says: We know that role models matter.
Who is your stand out woman in tech?
Written by Chelsey Lang.
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