IWD2019: women in tech - founders to fighters

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we will be publishing content on women, their experiences and the need to balance for better. We hope you enjoy it.

Despite the declining participation of women in technology overall, we have seen standout contributions from the industry’s top women over the decades, right up to today. 

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We can view these women in three cohorts: the founders (coders and inventors), the bosses and, most recently, the entrepreneurs and activists who are going it alone. 

"It’s simply not possible to accurately measure the massive opportunity cost resulting from the declining participation rate for women in technology.”

Last year, in the lead up to International Women’s Day, I decided to celebrate women in technology by paying homage to some of the most significant and noteworthy women in the industry.

Many of these women were an inspiration to me. It’s important to recognise their contributions, not least because they could similarly inspire others to choose a career in technology.

So, each day leading up to 8 March 2018 I tweeted about one of these women.  And I learned a few things along the way:

  • 100 turned out to be a big number! Yes I was able to find them but to get to 100 required effort. I put this down to the fact that while there are fewer women working in technology, it is also the case their contributions, in many cases, aren’t lauded.
  • We can point to outstanding contributors and leaders among women in technology, even as their numbers have declined. So it remains possible for women to “make it” even as the industry has become increasingly dominated by men.
  • Lastly, it dawned on me, as I progressed from one tweet to the next, that these women can be observed as forming three cohorts across three generations.

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What have we lost?

It’s simply not possible to accurately measure the massive opportunity cost resulting from the declining participation rate of women in technology. Where would the industry be today if women were prominent in each of these cohorts over the whole period (as is the case for men)?

Who might have been the women bosses during 50s, 60s and 70s? What might have been invented by women inventors and builders if that first cohort had sustained and renewed itself into 80s, 90s and the new millennium? And perhaps most significant of all, how might women have worked to build capability and agitate for change and so shaped the industry differently if they’d been present all along?

Among the research showing diverse teams perform better and build communities that thrive is McKinsey’s report Diversity Matters.

In that research, Tracy Chou, Co-founder of advocacy group Project Include, says: “the quality, relevance, and impact of the products and services output by the technology sector can only be improved by having the people who are building them be demographically representative of the people who are using them.”

I believe in celebrating the contributions of women it technology, we can hope to inspire more women. If they’re to pick up and carry the torch it’s vital women can see themselves reflected in the industry’s role models and successes.

We need to find and lionise recent examples of the builders and coders and engineers. Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and Hedy Lamarr – while absolutely brilliant and deserving women – are no longer with us (the youngest of these was born in 1914). Where are the cool, relatable women in tech being celebrated for this generation and the next to look up to?

On International Women’s Day we are reminded only a conscious and sustained effort to improve the experience of women in IT workforces – across the industry, globally – will reverse the longstanding trend that has seen fewer women choosing and sticking with a career in IT. 

Who knows maybe a modern day Ada Lovelace will be among them. 

Maryann Jamieson is Domain Lead, Business Automation & Integration Technology and Executive Sponsor for ANZ’s Women in Technology Network 

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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