The Past and Future of Women's Role in Tech

The Past and Future of Women's Role in Tech

February 23, 2021

Without women, technology as we know it wouldn’t exist. The first computer programmer was a woman, Ada Lovelace. Mathematics Ph.D and legendary Naval officer Grace Hopper is responsible for computers’ capability to process commands in English, among other innovations. Mary Wilkes was the creator of the first personal computer. Annie Easley is one of many African American women whose decade-long careers at NASA gave us batteries, rocket engines, and beyond. In fact, without Ms. Easley, hybrid cars would never have existed.

So between creating computer programming, teaching computers English, inventing the personal computer, and inventing hybrid cars—why are women still so marginalized in technology? How did they get squeezed out of tech? And what can we do about it? Let’s explore the history and answers. 

Historic Gender Issues in Technology

The historic issue facing women in technology hasn’t been inclusion. From World War II to the mid-sixties, women were actually the majority of the tech workforce. With men fighting on the fronts in Europe and the Pacific, women were the ones back home operating the room-sized supercomputers that calculated ballistics trajectories and military strategies. In fact, operating these machines was viewed as unskilled labor.

So what changed? Well, people got wise to how important and powerful computers were—and suddenly, the field they had defined and innovated was no longer allowed to women. Women were seen as low-level drones, unworthy of a career ladder because they would be getting married and having children. By the end of the 1970’s, women were all but phased out of the tech industry, in favor of men with better job titles who were paid higher salaries. 

Gender Gap in Technology Statistics

How diverse is the tech industry? Today, the disparity in tech career opportunity and job access created by bias persists as demonstrated by many statistics:

We could keep going—there are plenty of statistics—but the point has been demonstrated. The tech industry has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to gender equality and equal opportunity.

How To Measure Gender Equality in the Workplace

The latest Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum estimates it will take over 250 years for women to become economically equal to men. This is fundamentally connected to false narratives that continue about women—that there isn’t enough female talent in the pipeline, that women aren’t ambitious, that women lack confidence, and that women aren’t as valuable because they must carry more of the load at home. 

None of these narratives are because of a problem with women. They are all a problem of sexist workplace systems. And many of the steps being taken by employers to address these issues, still put the burden on women to adapt to these systems, rather than fixing the systems themselves. 

Consider the example of maternity leave. Many employers consider that improving the maternity leave policy is a step toward gender equality. But it could also be seen to reinforce gender inequality. Since only women experience maternity, they are being given access to a benefit that men don’t receive. This in turn supports sexist notions like women are weak, aren’t contributing as much to the team, and have more to do at home than at work. What if everyone, regardless of gender, got access to the same leave policy instead? What if they got access to this leave regardless of if they choose to have children or not? This would in fact be the best step toward true gender equality. 

The Gender Equality Project, created in conjunction with the World Economic Forum, focuses on five areas that are essential to true gender equality in all workplaces:

  • Equal pay for equivalent work
  • Recruitment and promotion
  • Training and mentoring
  • Work-life balance
  • Company culture

It is important to note that, though women suffer most of the brunt of gender inequality, men would benefit from changing standards as well. When everyone is equally awarded for their contributions, when diversity of perspective is present at the table, and when all team members have control over work-life balance, this will mean true equality in tech and beyond. 

Tech Bootcamps Help Women Get Jobs in Technology

But that ideal economic and cultural state can’t be achieved while the statistics we reported on remain true. That’s why a primary essential step is increasing the number of women who are employed and thriving in equal-paying, high-growth tech jobs. At Eleven Fifty Academy, helping people train quickly for tech jobs is our mission. Whether you’re stuck in a dead-end career or want to avoid that fate to begin with, our bootcamp in web development, cybersecurity, or UI/UX Design could have you prepared to launch a new career in just a few months.

The road ahead is still rocky and full of challenges for everyone, but we want to support you in walking it. Contact us today or sign up for a free intro class to take the first step.

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