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Women in Tech: Trailblazers and Current Trends

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Women Making Their Mark in Tech

Today, women make up 57% of the total workforce… but just over a quarter of the jobs in the information technology industry.

And it doesn't look like the stats will be changing in the next few years: the National Center for Women & Information Technology reports that women made up just 19% of computer science grads in the last few years.

Why the Tech Gender Gap?

The answer lies in our history: women have been shut out of the tech revolution for much of its history. Thanks to the doctrine of the domestic-public dichotomy, written about by Aristotle and reinforced throughout the Industrial Revolution, a woman's place was thought to be in the home.

Because of that belief, women were excluded from the world of higher education and technology. It wasn't until the 20th century, after many years of fighting for their rights, that colleges became open to women.

Even when they were able to earn degrees, many tech-related jobs weren't open for women. In fact, job postings were mostly segregated by gender until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal.

Thousands of years of tradition can't be wiped out in a few decades. But that doesn't mean there weren't extraordinary women who bucked the trend.

Women in Tech History

Women have made their mark in the world of technology, helping to found the field of computer science, crack enemy codes during World War II, and invent programming languages.

Today, women are more a part of the technology industry than ever… but we still have a long way to go.

Below you'll find some of the pioneering women who helped to invent the technology we use today, as well as women who are modern rising stars in developing new technologies and leading some of the top tech companies.

These women have made an impact in the tech industry today, but we still have a long way to go towards equality. Check out the tips below for how to break into the industry yourself, or encourage women and young girls in your life to get interested and involved in the world of technology.

Women Making Their Mark in Tech

Women Making Their Mark in Tech

In the field of computer science, less than a quarter of the degrees are being awarded to women. Many tech companies are following suit, some with nearly 100 male engineers and only a handful of women engineers. These women are taking charge and trying to change this.

The Current State of Women in Tech

  • Women are employed in STEM professions (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) half as often as men, even after graduating with the degree.
    • 31 percent versus just 15 percent for women.
  • 20% of women with a science or engineering degree are not working, compared to only 10% of men.
    • This is largely due to women taking on the caretaker role by default.
  • Not only are women less likely to have a career in STEM, but they are more likely to make less than their male counterparts
    • Women make an average of $75,100 while men make $91,000.
  • Women hold 57% of jobs in the workforce,
    • In the computing/technology industry, the figure drops to 25%
  • A very small percentage (.4%) of female college freshmen want to major in computer science.

Women Who Changed History

Women in the tech field are far more popular today than it was in the past. These pioneers of technology were able to mold some of the biggest and brightest ideas in technology today.

  • 1938-1945
    • The Bletchley Park code crackers
      • An elite code-cracking team that helped swing World War II in favor of the allies
      • By cracking the codes, they were able to give Prime Minister Winston Churchill and advance knowledge of Germany's invasion plans.
      • They auditioned for the team my solving the Times cryptic crossword.
      • When it happened: 1938-1945
  • 1942
    • The ladies of the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Engineering
      • These women were responsible for making calculations for tables of firing and bombing trajectories, and to determine the correct sequence of steps to complete the calculations for each problem and to set up the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer)
      • These women had quite a few responsibilities:
        • Make calculations for tables of firing and bombing trajectories
        • Determine correct sequence of steps to complete the calculations for each problem
        • Set up the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) accordingly.
        • Maneuver 3,000 switches and 80 tons of hardware in order to program ENIAC by hand.
  • 1961
    • Jean E. Sammet
      • She was the first to be awarded a Ph.D. in computer science in 1968.
        • Responsible for developing the first computer language while working at IBM.
  • 1977-1980
    • Carla Meninsky
      • She was an Atari employee responsible for creating Indy 500, Star Raiders, and Dodge 'Em.
        • She was one of only two women to work at the company at the time.
  • 1978 - 1984
    • Carol Shaw
      • She was the first female video game designer, working at Atari first and then later joining Activision.
      • She was responsible for creating River Raid, 3-D Tic Tac Toe, Super Breakout, and Happy Trails.
  • 1985
    • Radia Perlman
      • She is known to many as the "Mother of the Internet," as she invented the spanning-tree protocol.
        • Spanning-tree is a network protocol that builds a loop-free topology for any bridged Ethernet local area network (fundamental to the operation of network bridges).
        • She is also heavily involved in teaching young children computer programming.

Rising Stars

These women are making their mark on the technology world in big ways, and will continue to do so as the tech world continues to grow and encourage women to thrive.

  • Samantha John
    • At the age of 26, she is the co-founder of Hopscotch and programmer extraordinaire.
      • She is a huge advocate of learning, as the startup is where kids program their own games and animation.
  • Sarah Haider
    • She is an engineer for Twitter who works on their Android presence.
    • She also runs Twitter's Women in engineering group and is an advisor to "Girls Who Code."
  • Heather Payne
    • She founded Ladies Learning Code and HackerYou.
      • Her goal is to make learning code more accessible to women and young girls.
    • Her team also runs Girls Learning Code, an all-girls technology camp in Toronto.
  • Kathryn Parsons
    • She founded Decoded to help people become digitally literate and teach people to learn to code in a day.
    • As of April 2013, the company had taught 2000 people to code.

Leading the Way

These women all hold leadership roles at some of the top tech companies.

  • IBM - Virginia Rometty
    • She started with IBM in 1980, holding many roles in the company.
    • She holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and electrical engineering from Northwestern University.
  • Yahoo - Marissa Mayer
    • Previously employed by Google, Mayer is the now the President and CEO of Yahoo!, and has been since July 2012.
    • Mayer attended Stanford University and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in symbolic systems and Master of Science degree in computer science.
  • HP - Meg Whitman
    • She has served at the President and CEO since September 2011 and has worked at many other companies in a leadership capacity, including eBay, Proctor & Gamble, the Walt Disney Company, Hasbro Inc., Stride Rite Corporation, & FTD Inc.
    • She has degrees from both Princeton University and Harvard Business School.
  • International Game Technology - Patti S. Hart
    • She has been the CEO since 2009, having worked previously at Sprint and Pinnacle Systems.
    • She has a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Illinois State University.
  • Facebook - Sheryl Sandberg
    • Sheryl became the COO of Facebook in 2008, before that she was Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google.
    • She received her bachelor's degree in economics from Harvard University and her master's in business administration from Harvard Business School.

Molding The Future

For young women to learn about technology, the have to be given the opportunity to do so. These organizations do just that and are growing rapidly to accommodate the increased demand of women making a mark in the tech world.

  • Girls Who Code
    • An organization that teaches girls ages 13 to 17 to build websites and mobile apps, as well as start their own companies.
    • They say "The key is to get girls interested in science, engineering, and computing when they are very young, and support them to pursue education in technology."
    • The program is for 20 girls and lasts for eight weeks in New York City.
      • They have expanded to 4 other cities as well.
  • Girl Develop It
    • A women-only school with 16 chapters in Canada, America, and Australia.
    • Their mission is "to provide affordable and accessible programs to women who want to learn software development through mentorship and hands-on instruction."
  • Black Girls Code
    • With only 1% of technology start-ups founded by African Americans, and even less than that found by African American women, founder Kimberly Bryant wanted that to change.
    • The company targets African American girls, ages 7 to 17, offering courses in seven U.S. cities.
  • Girls Learning Code/Ladies Learning Code
    • The non-profit invites girls of any age to collaborate on learning tech skills.
    • The program is "less about code and more about changing the world."
  • Stemettes Project
    • The goal is to inspire the next generation of girls into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).
    • A key to tying together the movement is parents - if the parents are on board, the learning and training can carry over into the household, and the girls can continue to learn away from a structured setting.
    • So far, around 700 girls around the UK have been given the opportunity to see what it is like to be a Stemette.

Getting Started

Now you know women can rock the tech world, but how do you get started? Changing from one career to a tech career by means other than traditional schooling is tough, but it can be done. Here are a few things to consider.

  • Realize you can get started in tech without having to change careers right away
    • There is a lot you can learn on your own to get your feet wet
    • Search YouTube, blogs, message boards, & tech websites for the latest information to educate yourself.
  • If it exists, then there is tech behind it - everything made has technology in one way or another
    • Find something that interests you and pursue it.
  • Breaking into the industry can be tough right away without a degree in the field, so don't be afraid to work for companies like non-profits to expand your portfolio.
    • Look into freelance options as well.
  • Join a women's tech group to expand your network, and possibly gain a mentor in the process.
    • Look for these through places like Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and Meetup.com.
    • Examples of tech groups: Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, Women in Technology International.

"I love technology, and I don't think it's something that should divide along gender lines." - Marissa Mayer


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KeriLynn Engel

About KeriLynn Engel

KeriLynn has worked as a freelance writer for various websites. She is an advocate for domestic abuse victims and has way too many hobbies.


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