Founded in 2009 by technologist Suw Charman-Anderson, the second Tuesday in October is Ada Lovelace Day which celebrates women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers, but who was this extraordinary women and are her achievements so important?
Who was Ada Lovelace?
Born 1815 and daughter of romantic poet Lord Byron, Lovelace was tutored in mathematics and science – subjects often forbidden for girls at the time – at the insistence of her mother. At seventeen, she was recruited by Charles Babbage to translate notes on the Analytical Engine (the first general purpose computer) by an Italian engineer, and while doing so added her own notes, including a sequence for solving a range of mathematical problems.
She theorised that Babbage’s machine had the potential to translate music, pictures and text into digital form – recognising that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation . Her notes were respected and published in 1843, but the theory within was so revolutionary that it took over a century to be recognised as the first computer algorithm and Lovelace as the first computer programmer. Although Babbage was never able to complete the Analytical Engine Lovelace’s notes were used in Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers in the 1940s.
Lovelace died, aged 36, in 1852 and has since received a multitude of posthumous accolades. During her life she earned the accolade “Enchantress of Numbers;” in 1980, the US Department of Defence named a computer language after her and Ada Lovelace Day is celebrated every October in recognition of her groundbreaking contribution to computer technology.
Ada Lovelace Day and Influential Women in STEM
Over 166 years since Lovelace’s death, men still outnumber women in STEM careers by a significant margin. Despite initiatives in recent decades designed to increase women’s presence in STEM, there is still a noticeable lack of representation.
According to a recent study published in the journal Nature, the UK has the lowest proportion of women in engineering in Europe, with women accounting for just 12% (3% increase since 2015) of engineers. In the STEM industry as a whole, just 23% of the workforce are women.
“The path is not clear enough”
Cheryl Willis, Senior Director EMEA support & services at cloud data services company NetApp believes that it is important to have a support network for women in STEM:
“Today, we’re seeing much talk of encouraging girls to take STEM subjects. But without strong, visible female role models to relate to, the path is not clear enough. Women in technology need to be celebrated more, championed on social media and play a more prominent part in conversations in mainstream media. Thanks to technologies Ada could only have dreamed of, we now have the power to promote women and demonstrate their value for all to see.
”I have also learned from Ada that supporting and fostering the development of women by proving a forum for mentoring, networking, communication and professional development is crucial. It’s important to have a robust network that can support female employees. But as a female leader, I also attribute part of my strength to cultural experiences – I believe diversity brings a lot to the workplace.”
“Companies need a dynamic and diverse workforce”
Lindsey Kneuven, Head of Social Impact at software company Pluralsight believes that a diverse workforce is beneficial to companies:
“Across STEM, the gender imbalance remains intolerably high. Women are being overlooked for appointment to senior positions and this is having a detrimental impact on the next generation of talent to lead technological innovation. The absence of appropriate role models for girls leads to a lack of confidence in their ability, and inevitably, causes bright and talented individuals to turn their backs on promising careers in technology.
“In today’s business climate, companies need a dynamic and diverse workforce to deliver ground-breaking innovations and provide the best possible service to their customers. Those who do not champion equal representation are missing out on a big opportunity to maintain their competitive edge and outperform their peers. Now is the time for women to use this momentum to press for equal footing across science and technology. It’s the twenty-first century and barriers to employment, whether it’s gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or physical ability, should not exist.”
“The path into tech doesn’t have to be linear”
Lizzie Hodgson, founder and director of social enterprise ThinkNation gave the following advice to women and girls pursuing STEM careers:
“The path into tech doesn’t have to be linear. Look at what your skillset is. Ask yourself ‘what are the problems I want to help solve?’. Then embrace them with curiosity and drive. Find organisations that can help you segue into the industry where those challenges are being addressed.
“Be bold and reach out to the people in charge of the companies or organisations. Ask to meet or call them. Find them on LinkedIn and give them a reason to want to meet or connect with you. Do your homework because the human connection matters more than ever. Get out of your comfort zone. Find your tribe. Then find your mentor. Remember: STEM cannot flourish without creative ideas and approaches. That’s where the opportunity lies.”
Let us know your thoughts, how can more women be encouraged to take up a career in STEM?
If you would like to learn more about the impact of women in engineering take a look at the following article on 50 influential female engineers: