When Women Ruled the World (The World of Tech, Anyhow)


“Women in tech are uniquely positioned to demonstrate their leadership as we know how to build communities and engage people to bring out their personal best. We’ve all heard statistics about the challenges and the need to encourage young women to join “the tribe” and to reduce the attrition of talented women currently in the technology profession. Part of our mission is not only to share what we have learned along the way, but to provide real advice on what you can do. Our goals include recognizing talented women in tech (you will hear from many of them in the book), inspiring the broader community of women in tech, and encouraging the next generation of young women to join us.”

~ Debra Christmas and Kelley Irwin, Please Stay: How Women in Tech Survive and Thrive

The air is crisp. The leaves are starting to turn. And pumpkin spice “everything” is everywhere – it’s safe to say that fall is back, and we’re heading toward a brand-new year. Hopefully everyone had an enjoyable summer, because it’s now time to give those knuckles a crack and get down to the business of women ruling the world – the world of tech, at least. And no two people are more ready for that than Debra Christmas and Kelley Irwin.

PLEASE STAY: A Quick Refresher on Women in Tech Surviving and Thriving

Last spring and early summer on this blog, you got a snapshot of Debra and Kelley’s incredible book Please Stay: How Women in Tech Survive and Thrive. If you haven’t read those articles yet, please do so. They contain valuable information about the current state of women in tech plus, honest ‘tales from the trenches’ – stories from amazing women who shared their own experiences building careers in tech – at every level.

Each piece is linked below:

PLEASE STAY: How Women in Tech Survive and Thrive

The Barriers Facing Women in Tech

Forging Your Path as Women in Tech

Women in Tech: Having the Courage to Be Uncomfortable

Support Fellow Women and Embrace Men as Allies

Drop the Gender Roles and Use Your Voices to Be Heard

How Women in Tech Can Dodge Discrimination and Find Joy

Thinking of Leaving? Take Some Advice from the Trenches Before You Jump

The goal in writing the book was:

  • To recognize and support talented women in technology,
  • To encourage girls to explore math and science and technology when young – in ways that are fun and challenging and rewarding.
  • To support women in their early technology careers, helping them stay and flourish.
  • And to not only embrace the women in tech, but also work to increase the numbers of women studying computer science and joining technology careers from other avenues.

I think it’s safe to say that they are well on their way to achieving those goals and more.

When Women Ruled the World (The World of Tech, Anyhow)

That said, as we wrote in our first article last spring, whether due to lack of support (at best) or inexcusable behaviour directed toward them because they are women (at worst), there’s still a “leaky pipeline” when it comes to STEM and women.

Fewer than 40 percent of women who majored in computer science are working in the field. For men? That number is over 50 percent. Engineering? Equally bleak – only 24 percent of women with a degree are actively working in the field. And if you sift through those numbers in search of diverse women, the number plummets.

This is the year 2021. Imagine what it was like a hundred years ago. It hardly bears thinking about. But, as in all of history, if you peel back enough layers of the onion, you will find the unsung stories of women who changed the world – in every field (including war). Women have always been driven to find more. To do more. To contribute more.

And many changed the world while also juggling the socially acceptable and expected “roles” of womanhood – managing a household, having children, keeping a spouse happy and comfortable – as so many of us still do today (that’s a blog post for another time).

So, as we here at the ‘tech tribe’ gear up for another series of articles exploring a wider web of what it means to be a woman in tech, we decided to start on a high note. We wanted to remind everyone about the true trailblazers, and highlight a few of the women who broke through barriers culturally and societally, those who turned the traditional patriarchal idea of what it meant to “be a woman” on its head.

Let’s all take a page from their book, and blaze a trail in the world of tech that’s focused on changing stereotypes, and lifting up the younger women who are behind you. Because many of us wouldn’t be where we are today were it not for ***the women below.

Groundbreaking Women in STEM

Ada Lovelace is considered to be the founder of scientific computing and the first computer programmer. Her algorithm — which history has come to know as the first one designed for a machine to carry out — was intended to be used for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, which Lovelace would sadly not see built during her lifetime. Lovelace passed away in 1852, but her previously little-known work and “poetical” approach to science has broken through to inspire present-day young women interested in computer programming.

Katherine Johnson, an African-American space scientist and mathematician, is a leading figure in American space history and has made enormous contributions to America’s aeronautics and space programs by her incorporation of computing tools. She played a huge role in calculating key trajectories in the Space Race — calculating the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space, as well as for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon. Johnson is now retired and continues to encourage students to pursue careers in science and technology fields.

Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was at the forefront of computer and programming language development from the 1930s through the 1980s. One of the crowning achievements of her 44-year career was the development of computer languages written in English, rather than mathematical notation — most notably, the common business computing language known as COBOL, which is still in use today.  Hopper’s legacy is still honored by the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference.

Edith Clarke was a pioneering electrical engineer at the turn of the 20th century. She worked as a “computer,” someone who performed difficult mathematical calculations before modern-day computers and calculators were invented. Clarke struggled to find work as a female engineer instead of the ‘usual’ jobs allowed for women of her time, but became the first professionally employed female electrical engineer in the United States in 1922. She paved the way for women in STEM and engineering and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015.

Maria Klawe Despite growing up as a self-described outcast, Maria Klawe pursed her passion for technology and became a prominent computer scientist. Klawe is now the first female president of Harvey Mudd College and works hard to ignite passion about STEM fields amongst diverse groups. During her tenure at Harvey Mudd College, her work has helped support the Computer Science faculty’s ability to innovate, and has raised the percentage of women majoring in computer science from less than 15 percent to more than 40 percent today.

***Credit: The Untold History of Women in Science and Technology – The Obama Whitehouse Archives

Debra and Kelley will celebrate the one-year year anniversary for Women in Tech Tribe on October 20th with the talented women featured in the book. Hard to believe a year has gone by already, but here we are, and there’s much more on the horizon. And if you haven’t already, join our “Tech Tribe.” Let’s change the face of tech together!