Women In Technology: Inventing, Building and Leading
You know that International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated every year on March 8th. But do you know that the entire month of March is dedicated to Women, their rights and their history? The institution of IWD cannot be attributed to a sole event in history. It is a culmination of many different strikes, protests and the struggle for better working conditions, against domestic violence and for equal rights including the Right to Vote. First formally recognized by Soviet Russia in 1917 during World War I, the day that once celebrated only one-half of world’s population, today stands for Equality, Inclusivity, Diversity and Equitability and also embraces those who do not conform to the binary-gender paradigm.
The theme for IWD 2023 is ‘DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality’. According to United Nations (UN), this year the focus shall be on acknowledging, appreciating and further encouraging the immense contributions made by Women to the field of Technology and Online Learning. It is absolutely essential to shine this light on Women in Tech because the statistics are worrying – the percentage of women working Computing and Technical jobs has been consistently reducing, registering a whopping 9% points decrease from 35% in 1990 to 26% in 2013. These statistics by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics paints a bleak picture especially because the technical field has seen double digit growth during the same 23 year period. This situation turns even more grim when it comes to latest technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, where only 1 in 5 professionals is woman as per UN survey. If this is the case in the world’s richest country, we can only imagine the gravity of the situation in developing nations.
Despite of these seemingly depressing numbers, there are Women in Tech who are leading the way for all of us. This Women’s Day, let us look at 8 such women who have revolutionized the field of technology by their utilitarian ideas, entrepreneurial spirit and scientific prowess.
1) Ada Lovelace
Ada is regarded as the World’s First Computer Programmer for creating the first algorithm to be carried out on a computer. She was a visionary from 19th century England who first realized the potential of computing machines beyond mere calculations. She programmed ‘The Analytical Machine’, a mechanical computer that was created by her friend Charles Babbage, known as ‘The Father of Computer’. Today, the software and computing industry is worth trillions of dollars, all thanks to Ada and her passion towards mathematics and computing.
2. Steve Shirley
During 1950s Britain, the only science available to Stephanie, because of her gender, was Botany. But, not the one to give up on her dreams of working in technical and math field, she persevered. What started as writing machine language code and building computers from scratch for Postal research, eventually culminated in founding a software company in 1959 using only £6 with her husband. Stephanie had to face a lot of harassment because of her gender. She even had to change her name to Steve because letters signed as Stephanie weren’t taken seriously by her employees and business associates. Not one to buckle down, she made it her life mission to only employ female staff, including software developers in her company and succeeded. Though she had to abandon this policy after passing of a law that disallowed gender discrimination at workplace, she proved that women could succeed at whatever they wanted to do and set an example for future generations. Post retirement, Steve spends her time in philanthropy and encourages multidisciplinary study of the effects of internet in social, legal, economic and ethical realms.
3. Ginni Rometty
Commemorated as the ‘Time’s 20 Most Influential People in Tech’, Ginni had over 4 decades long career. Starting as Systems Engineer in 1981, she went on to become the first woman CEO of IBM, one of the biggest tech companies in the world. She was instrumental in IBM’s foray into the fields of cloud computing, IT consulting and analytics. Apart from her technological achievements, she remains an inspiration for her emphasis on demystifying complex technology for laypersons with the aim of ‘Technology for All’. Despite having a hard childhood after being abandoned by her father, she rose up to the challenges life threw at her and emerged victorious. Now that is the true manifestation of Divine Feminine energy!
4. Reshma Saujani
The first Indian-American Woman to run for Congress, Reshma dons many hats. She is a lawyer, activist, politician, technologist and a civil servant. During her political campaign, she noticed the huge gender disparity in the field of computer science. So, to remedy the injustice, she founded ‘Girls Who Code’, a Non-Profit organisation that promotes Programming, Mathematics And Computer Skills among young girls and women. She also focusses on better work conditions for women – specifically the issues like pay parity, support for moms and equality of opportunities. She believes that because girls are taught to be perfect, while boys are ingrained with bravery, women tend to live in the shadows rather than claiming their spot in the limelight. Her Ted Talk called ‘Teach girls bravery, not Perfection’ shows how confident girls turn into reticent women and how we can end the disparity. I highly recommend you watch it – you just might turn over a new leaf!
5. Padmasree Warrior
Armed with degrees from IIT Delhi and Cornell University, Padmasree has carved a space for herself in the male-dominated tech leadership through sheer hardwork and will. Serving as Chief Technological Officer (CTO) of Cisco, a computer networking MNC, she has set the bar high for women world over. She embodies the essence behind the word ‘TechPreneur’ (Technology Entrepreneur) through thorough technical knowledge, accompanied by business acumen. Featuring on Fortune’s ‘Most Powerful Women’ and ‘Notable Women in Computing’ list, Warrior has steered autonomous vehicles company as well as started her own venture – a private social network and a book recommendation engine. With her powerful voice, she influences millions to follow the path of entrepreneurship and become successful.
6. Marie Curie
No list of Women in Science can be complete without Marie Curie. The two-time Nobel prize winner Physicist was far ahead of her times of 19th-20th century. She was the first Woman to win Nobel prize and part of the First Couple to achieve the prestigious honour, alongwith her husband. The elements Polonium and Radium were discovered by her. Moreover, her work in isolating radioactive isotopes enabled their use for therapeutic reasons. Further, she is hailed for inventing mobile radiography units that provided X-ray services on field during World War I. Alas, her work with radioactive metals resulted into cancer and she succumbed to it. Inspite of not having the best of circumstances to work and learn, Marie did not stop her education and research, at times even self-educating herself and putting her own funds into inventing. I believe, Marie Curie exemplifies the strength, intelligence and power of a woman, and hence continues to motivate generations after her.
7. Jennifer Doudna
An American Biochemist, she was told as a child that ‘Women don’t go into Sciences’. But Jennifer turned a deaf ear towards her detractors and persevered to become the ‘First Woman to share a Nobel Prize in Sciences’ in 2020. She, alongwith her co-winner Emmanuelle Charpentier, is awarded for creating a gene editing tool known as CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats). It is a technology that has made editing of a genomic sequence as simple as cutting paper with scissors. Through their research, Doudna and Charpentier are credited for bringing about ‘CRISPR Revolution’ that is slated to take humanity one step closer to finding a cure for genetic diseases. Notwithstanding the ethical concerns raised regarding gene editing, we truly are living in exciting times! She says “When someone tells me I can’t do something and I know that I can, it just makes me more resolved to do it”. We need more resolute and determined women leaders like her, not only in science but in all fields.
8. Tierra Guinn
An 11 year old girl decided to become a Rocket Scientist and 16 years later is living her dream everyday. Tierra graduated from MIT, world’s top university with a 5 out of 4 GPA! As the youngest engineer on the Design and Structural Analysis Team, she is responsible for building NASA’s Space Launch System that will be used to send people to Mars. Winner of ‘Most Promising Engineer – Industry Award’, Tierra proves that ‘Age is just a Number’ when it comes to achieving your dreams.
In Indian tradition, Ashta Durga or the Eight Goddesses who slay demons and achieve peace and prosperity in the world are worshipped. Likewise, these 8 women are slaying the demons of self-doubt and self-deprecation to pave the path for confident, talented and determined women to emerge. By no means is this list exhaustive, but it acts as a guiding light for the women who want to build a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and claim their rightful position in the world. This Women’s Day, let us resolve to make the world a little better and our workplaces more suitable for our Mothers, Sisters, Wives and Daughters in order to create a safe and just environment for 50% of the world’s 7 billion people.
Vishvali Deo is an E&TC (Electronics and Telecommunication) Engineer by education and Software Engineer by Profession. She believes that 'Technology is a Great Democratising and Equalising Force' and hence is on a mission to make the general public understand seemingly complex technologies in a simple manner.
She is convinced that the root of today's world problems lie in the past, hence she has also pursued post-graduation in History. She has a keen interest and a good grip over Economics, Political Science and Environmental Engineering. She has a penchant for working with Women and spreading Digital Literacy amongst them, with the aim of their empowerment. She also strives to provide Free Quality Education to children and counsels young adults. Besides, she is also skilled at Public Speaking, having won many awards in Elocution & Debate Competitions and Technical Paper Presentations.