International Women's Day 2018

International Women’s Day 2018

Today we are celebrating International Women’s Day.

International Women’s day was started by the Suffragettes in the early 1900s, and so much has happened for women’s rights since then.

However, the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report found that gender parity is over 200 years away, which shows we still have a way to go yet.

International Women’s Day belongs to all communities everywhere, including the tech community.
And as part of the tech community we need to ensure we are doing all we can to encourage more women into technology and support those already in it.

However, women are not new to the world of technology.
Here are 3 inspirational women who have contributed greatly to the tech world:

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace portrait

Ada Lovelace was born in 1815 – a long time before computers were around. However, she is widely considered the first computer programmer.

Lovelace was mentored by Charles Babbage, who is also known as the father of the computer. He invented the difference engine which was designed to perform mathematical calculations.
He also devised the analytical engine which was designed to handle more complex calculations.

When Lovelace was asked to translate an article on the analytical engine, written by Italian engineer Luigi Federico Menabrea, she also included her own thoughts and ideas on the machine.

Her notes ended up being three times longer than the original journal!

Lovelace described her ideas on how codes could be used for the device to handle letters, symbols and numbers.
She also came up with a method for the engine to repeat a series of instructions, this is now known as looping.

Her work was published in an English science journal in 1843, however it was only published under her initials. Her contributions to computer science were not discovered until the 1950s when her notes were reintroduced to the world by Bowden in Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Machines.

In the 1980s  a computer programming language (Ada) was named after her.

Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper was a computer scientist in the US Navy, where she was also a Rear Admiral.
She worked on the UNIVAC 1, which was the first commercial computer produced in the USA, and she created the first compiler.

Hopper is often referred to as the person who first used the term “computer Bug”  after she found a moth inside a computer, although some people believe she didn’t author the term, but just popularised it.

She also invented FLOW-MATIC which was the first English-like  data processing language. There was a lot of resistance to this as people felt it couldn’t be done as computers didn’t understand English.
However Hopper felt it was important as very few people involved in data processing were symbol orientated, nor were they mathematically trained.
FLOW-MATIC then led to the development of COBOL which is still used today.

In 1991 Hopper was awarded the National Medal of Technology. She was the first woman to receive this honour.

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr Publicity Photo for The Heavenly Body 1944

Hedy Lamarr may be a surprise to you, as she is mainly famous for being a movie star in the 1920s. However, Lamarr also developed technology that allowed the Navy to remotely control torpedoes by manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception. This invention formed an unbreakable code that prevented classified messages from being intercepted by enemy personnel.

This frequency hopping technology was an early form of encryption as it made it difficult for outside agents to understand what was being communicated.

Lamarr’s work on spread-spectrum has been used in the development of modern wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and Wifi.

Unfortunately, Lamarr didn’t received much recognition for her work at the time. However, in 1997 she (along with  George Anthiel) were honoured with the Electric Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award.

Something these 3 pioneering women have in common was an initial lack of recognition.
It is now more common for women to work in technology and to get recognition, but studies show that women are still underrepresented.
As an industry, we need to encourage more women into technology. But how can we do this?
Unfortunately a number of initiatives used to encourage more women into tech can come across as patronising.
When there are fewer women in the talent pool there are fewer women to hire.
We also don’t want to be giving women jobs just because they are women and not necessarily right for the role.

How do we combat this?

We encourage more females into tech education.
If we can do this we will automatically increase diversity hiring.

Encouraging the STEM subjects early is imperative.
We also need to communicate the benefits of careers in tech. Research by WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) found that young women and girls responded better when they were allowed to focus on how their attributes compliment roles in these sectors rather than hearing about the type of work being done.
They also identified with mentors and leaders, which increased their engagement with STEM subjects.

There is no quick fix for getting more women working in tech, but it is something we need to take seriously.

But what will really happen if we don’t have enough women working in tech?
Well Quartz explain the potentially disastrous effects  perfectly with a paperclip metaphor. It is well worth reading the full article but I will share this quote with you:

“If we don’t get women and people of colour at the table—real technologists doing the real work—we will bias systems,” said Melinda Gates at the launch of the nonprofit AI4All last year, which she funded. “Trying to reverse that a decade or two from now will be so much more difficult, if not close to impossible.”

So if the potential end of the world due to bias algorithms used in AI is not enough to make you take note!
Perhaps this will: diversity boosts profitability.

Has reading this article inspired you?
Are you ready to take the next step in encouraging more women into technology?
Here are my top three things to do:

Do you have any ideas on how to encourage more women into Technology? Please share them with us.
Or if you are a woman working in tech looking for your next role, please take a look at our careers page. 

Written by Lyssa-Fêe Crump
Head of Marketing / Scrum Master at Headforwards
Google Women Techmaker
STEM Ambassador
Software Cornwall committee member