This month is Women’s History Month. We, at Connected Nation, celebrate the achievements of women in advancing computing and internet technology and support continued efforts in digital inclusion and inclusion of women and girl in technology jobs. Women have played a pivotal role in the evolution of technology beginning with Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), whose portrait by Alfred Edward Chalon is shown here.
Recognized as the “mother of computer programming,” Ada envisioned modern-day computers nearly 100 years before they were invented in the 1940s. While working on a proposed Analytic Engine, she recognized that the machine could be programed to follow instructions using algebraic patterns. This would become the foundation upon which modern day computers were created and continue to operate today. Like Ada Lovelace, women continue to contribute to the advancement of technology.
Most recently the 2016 movie Hidden Figures helped to bring to light the role of African American women in the United States’ aeronautics and space programs in the 1950s. The movie highlights contributions of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, African-American mathematicians that worked as human computers using the early IBM mainframe to make projections for space travel. This allowed John Glenn to be the first American to Orbit the earth. These women are among many others who are considered pioneers of modern computing. Make no mistake there were many female programmers as far back as the 1950s.
While history shows the key role that women have played in technology, today much attention is being paid to the gender gap in the technology sector.
The issue is more than the fact that women are just not seeking jobs in technology; it is that we have lost sight of the contributions of women like Ada Lovelace and Katherine Johnson. But when did this happen? When did we start prescribing to the stereotype of the antisocial, male, geek programmer? This has translated to a gender bias that presupposes that women are not good at and/or are not interested in technology jobs.
In 2017 Science Daily conducted a study on how women programmers were perceived in the online programming world. As part of their experiment they used the programming site GitHub. They posted an open call to programmers to submit improvements/feedback. They found that women who submitted programs without including their gender or picture received higher acceptance rates than those who included their gender and/or picture in their profile. Additionally female programmers who kept their gender anonymous had better ratings than men who did the same. The results clearly illustrated the issue of gender bias in the programming work.
So today we celebrate women’s achievement in technology throughout the ages—teachers, programmers, innovators, executives, and technicians all play a vital role in this global economy.
I celebrate the women at Connected Nation that work tirelessly to empower communities with technology (Go to https://connectednation.org/our-team/ to learn about our women in tech). But we must not lose sight of the gender gaps in technology that need to be addressed as we press for progress. It is our responsibility as a society to ensure that women and girls are empowered and understand the opportunities.
As a woman in technology I take every opportunity to encourage young girls to tackle science. I recently hosted a programming class for my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop with the hope that maybe—just maybe—one of them will be the next great Ada Lovelace.
Heather Gate (pictured left) serves as the Director of Digital Inclusion for Connected Nation. She is responsible for strategy development and implementation of programs that impact Digital Inclusion for all people in all places. She provides project management services including identification of program challenges and goals as well as day-to-day oversight and funding research. Heather also serves on the FCC’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment and chairs the Committee’s Digital Empowerment and Inclusion Working Group.
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