“We started by telling girls not to lead from an early age and we told boys to lead from a young age. This is a mistake.”
-Sheryl Sandberg for BBC Radio4-
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s operational director, emphasizes the gender pay gap in the technology sector and raises the shortage of women leading management positions in this sector as a must-solve problem.
Women continue – we continue – to play a secondary role in technology companies (and in most sectors), especially as these jobs move away from the base and approach the summit. But despite the added difficulties, there are many that paved our way and many more that follow their legacy. That is why we believe it is necessary to look back and remember five incredible professionals who, together with many more, sowed the seeds of current technology against wind and tide.
1.Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852, London)
She was a British mathematician, computer scientist and writer who went down in history for creating the first algorithm to be processed by a machine. In spite of being the daughter of Lord Byron – poet of the movement of the British romanticism – she more than wrote her own story, having a computer language in her honor, “Ada”, baptized by the US Department of Defense. For these achievements -and many more-, Lovelace becomes the first programmer in history, thus being a precursor to modern computing. In case anyone doubted it, yes, she had to hide her signature under the acronym A.A.L (Augusta Ada Lovelace) to not be censored for being a woman …
2.Women of ENIAC: Betty Snyder Holberton (1917-2001), Betty Jean Jennings Bartik (1924-2011), Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum (1924-1986), Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli (1921-2006), Frances Bilas Spence (1922-2012) and Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer (1922-2008).
This brutal team of women has gone down in history for designing and programing the software that allowed the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) to calculate ballistic trajectories and later register it on firing tables used by gunners in World War II. The “women of ENIAC” created the basis of current programming by developing the first software applications. Of course their merits have not been recognized until – many – years later.
3.Grace Hooper (1906-1992, USA)
Went down in history for making her dream come true, that computer science reach beyond the scientific fields through simplified programming languages. Apart from being responsible for the first compiler in history – as if this were not enough – she created the COBOL (Common Business Orientated Language) language, a programming medium the basis of which is developed with words (unlike the rest, formed by numbers). Grace was an exceptional and misunderstood computer scientist at the same time, who pursued her project in the face of the disbelief and misunderstanding of the rest of the scientific community of the moment.
4.Hedy Lamar (1914 – 2000, Austria)
Not only was she a successful actress in Hollywood – which is not small – but she developed new military technologies against the Nazi regime. Her work consisted of creating, together with George Antheil, a Secret Communication System that aimed to be able to remote control missiles without being intercepted by a signal that made them change frequency synchronously between 88 possibilities. Frequency switching together with the digital technological revolution became the basis of Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth or mobile communication systems. Lamar was granted the patent for her discovery with her married name (Hedwig Kiesler), which is why she never received the recognition she deserved.
5.Mavis Lilian Batey (1921 – 2013, United Kingdom)
Mathematician and cryptanalyst, had a key role in World War II. At 19 years she began working on the structure of Enigma (German machine for rotary encryption) and in 1941 she managed to decipher an Italian message and its respective encryption code. Not content with this, she kept track of all the communications that arrived, thus succeeding in deciphering key movements of the Axis armies. Batey also managed to interpret the German messages and codes, thus granting a great advantage to the Allies that already had the communications of the Italians. Thanks to this information, the German army could be confused before carrying out the great coup that ended World War 11 with the Normandy Landings. Today, Mavis Batey is not yet considered a protagonist in the history of D Day.
These are just a few of all the women who have made essential contributions without which society would not be as we know it. There are five examples that should be studied in schools and be present in all STEM books, thus serving as a reference for girls who will write the history of technology tomorrow.
It is time for us to see gender as a spectrum instead of two opposite ideals.