Despite prominent workforce changes in the 1970’s, women in IT remain largely underrepresented. The last few decades have seen increased female participation in male dominated industries such as construction and plumbing, however women still occupy less than a quarter of IT jobs worldwide. The female workforce have come a long way in the last few decades, nevertheless women are still not equal in the workplace and being a woman in the tech industry is even harder.
Women still do not receive equal pay or treatment and remain subject to gender discrimination and harassment. In this blog we explore the reasons why women remain underrepresented within the computing industry and celebrate the accomplishments of women in IT.
History of women in IT
Women have played a major role in the origins and development of computing, here we celebrate the key historical accomplishments of women in IT:
- Ada Lovelace (1815) – Ada is widely credited as being “the first computer programmer” after she drew up numerical instructions for an early mechanical computer. The U.S department named a software language “Ada” in her honour in 1979
- Frances Spence (2002) – Frances was one of the original programmers used in the ENIAC project. The ENIAC project helped construct the first completely electronic digital computer for the U.S. army. Despite Frances’s involvement with the project, the U.S. army failed to mention her name in the projects involvement.
- Joan Clarke (1944) – Joan worked alongside Alan Turing during the breaking of the enigma code. During WWII, countless of messages decoded by Joan would result in actual military action being taken. Other notable female codebreakers during WWII include Margaret Rock, Mavis Level and Ruth Briggs.
- Jean Sammet (1961) – Jean played a key role in the creation of COBOL. COBOL was one of the first modern programming languages, the software has revolutionised computing within business. Jean later became the Software Technology Manager at IBM.
Women in IT today
As reported by LHTB, women account for only 21.4% of computer programmers. Despite their underrepresentation in IT, women continue to lead key developments within the technology industry today:
- Stephanie “Steve” Shirely (1993) – Stephanie founded the software company ‘Freelance Programmers’ with the intention of creating more technology job opportunities for women, only 3 out of their first 300 staff were male. She famously adopted the name “Steve” online to help her succeed in the male-dominated technology world.
- Anita Borg (1997) – Anita founded the ‘Institute for women and technology’. The organizations primary aim is to inspire, motivate and move more women into the technology industry.
- Mary Jepson (2005) – Mary co-founded the non-profit initiave ‘One Laptop Per Child’. The organization aims to improve education standards for children across the world by providing educational devices for the developing world. Mary came from a technical background and helped create much of the software used in these devices.
Regardless of these achievements, women remain largely underrepresented in the computer industry. Researchers have identified various potential reasons for this. Many propose the low participation rate is due to the ‘Brogrammer’ culture of computer programming, suggesting the industry is unwelcoming because of its aggressive male dominance. Others believe that school subject choices are offered in a way that pushes women away from the IT industry because female participation rates in physics and maths are lower. Alternatively, Gene Marks believes women simply aren’t interested in technology-related work and therefore lower participation in IT is due to choice. He believes “The IT industry is simply not as attractive as other industry’s to women.”
This attitude has not stopped a substantial number of women succeeding within the IT industry. Thanks to organisations such as the ‘Institute for women and technology’ we can hope to see women take down the “no girls allowed” sign on the front door of the IT industry in the future.