Technology is the fuel that moves the modern world. Artificial Intelligence, Software Engineering, Mathematics, Physics… all these subjects helped to improve society with great advances. What is not so well known is the fact that women had a very important role in the development of technology and computer science. Today, most of this area is occupied by men, but there was a time when more women were entering in technology courses, despite all the difficulties generated by prejudice and sexism.

Understanding these episodes of history is the first step to not repeat the same mistakes. It is important to know the great figures that were significant for the development of applied science and, as we are talking about technology, the ones that made huge advances inside this field. Let’s start?

My first question for you is… do you know Lord Byron? If the answer is yes, ok, after all, he is one of the most famous writers of all time, an influential figure of Romanticism. However, he is not the central subject of this article. The figure that interests us here is his daughter, Ada Lovelace (or Ada Byron).

Ada Lovelace (Source: Wikipedia)

In the early 19th century, Ada Lovelace was a mathematician and writer, and she was responsible for developing the first algorithm of history. She is considered the first programmer in the world. Cool, right?

Now, we are going to advance in time, to the 20th century. During World War II, the development of computers and technology, in general, was an important tool to fight against the Axis powers, and we can quote Alan Turing as an example. After the war ended and the Cold War was in its early stages, it was even more relevant to maintain research on the technologic field.

In 1946, the ENIAC(Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) was the first electronic digital computer to function and the whole programming of ENIAC was made by “The Computers”, six scientists that built a new pillar in computer development. Their names? Frances Bilas, Jean Jennings, Ruth Lichterman, Kathleen McNulty, Betty Snyder, and Marlyn Wescoff.

Source: USA Army

During the 1940s and 1950s, Grace Hopper – a systems analyst of the US Navy – created the programming language Flow-Matic (today it is not used anymore) that served as a basis for the development of the COBOL language.

Grace Hopper (Source: Wikipedia)

Also, if you like movies and science, you probably must have watched the movie “Hidden Figures”. The purpose of the movie was to present three black scientists that had an important role in the development of NASA during the racial segregation period. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson were responsible for the calculations that determinated the launch time of Apollo 11 to space.

Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan (Source: Marie Claire Magazine)

Now, a curious fact: did you know that in the last century more women entered in technology graduation courses than today? I got very confused about that. Why?

Why did the number of women in technology courses decrease?

There is no simple answer to this question. Many factors are responsible for this unfortunate reality. The fact that most parts of the advertisement about technology are made for men, the videogames focused on boys – have you ever asked yourself why we usually connect the word “nerd” to a boy and rarely to a girl? –, and, of course, the sexism rooted – and sometimes camouflaged –, in our society, that associates certain activities to women and others to men, just to quote some examples.

According to studies of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), in 2011, only 18% of graduate students of Computer Science were women in the United States. In Brazil, it is not so different. Studies of the Brazilian Education’s Ministry (MEC) have shown that the number of technology courses increased by approximately 585% in the last decade, but the number of women enrolled has fallen from 34,8% to 15,5%.

And what can we do to improve this situation?

Well, we gave the first step: to know more about the history and the women responsible for great achievements in applied science and technology. Now, the next move is to reflect on our attitudes and appreciate the great professionals of IT, women, and men.

I hope that this article was interesting and relevant to expand our knowledge and open your mind about this topic. To conclude, in the words of Camila Achutti, an entrepreneur of success and an influential name in the technologic world: “teach girls that technology is a means and not an end.

 

About the author

 

Luiza Flores is a Marketing Intern at Poatek.