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September 23, 2023 - 8 minutes

Breaking Barriers: Women Pioneers in Tech and Their Inspiring Stories

Learn about some of tech’s leading women

Ironhack - Changing The Future of Tech Education

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It’s no secret that the tech world has traditionally been a male-dominated one; in fact, gender equality is one of the tech sector’s main concerns. But in recent years, more and more women have taken the first step towards true equality, making a name for themselves in tech and showing everyone that women belong in tech. 

If you’ve studied or researched anything about diversity and inclusion, you’re aware that representation is crucial. Encouraging young girls to choose careers in tech is the first step towards reaching a more equal and diverse tech workforce; after all, it can be daunting to choose a career in a field where you don’t see yourself represented in the slightest. 

That’s why we’ve chosen to highlight some of tech’s most incredible female pioneers, women who have broken down barriers on their way to success in tech. But before we get there, let’s review the gender gap in tech, why the lack of gender diversity is a problem, and how women can help better the industry as a whole.

The Gender Gap in Tech 

If there aren’t as many women working in tech, why don’t more just join? It seems like the easy solution to the problem, right? Well, there are many barriers facing women both before they enter the tech workforce and while they’re in it: 

  • Men are statistically more likely to be promoted and hold leadership roles

  • Women are paid less than men for the same work in every single country worldwide

  • Women face pressure and judgment when it comes to pregnancy, motherhood, and working while children are young

  • Women are frequently tasked with familial responsibilities, such as caring for the elderly or other family members 

As we mentioned before, one of the biggest barriers to more women entering the workforce is representation and these 2020 stats prove our point even further: 

  • Women received 16% of bachelor degrees in computer and information services, 21% in engineering, 27% in economics, and 38% in physical sciences. 

  • Only 19% of senior vice presidents and 15% of CEOs are women.

  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, women were twice as likely to leave their jobs, be put on leave, or laid off. 

  • Women hold less than 20% of tech leadership roles.

With these statistics, entering the field of tech can be quite intimidating. But there is a dire need for more and more women in the field because women bring value to the field. In fact, empowered women, especially in the tech industry, have been proven to increase consumer spending, improve decision-making processes, encourage more inclusive societies, and increase sustainability efforts. 

Women Pioneers in Tech

History has been filled with female pioneers in the tech field, breaking down barriers for the women who would come after them. Let’s learn a bit about some of the most influential women in tech and how they’ve created the tech industry we know today.

Ada Lovelace

You’ve probably heard about Ada Lovelace and there’s a reason why: she was the world’s first computer programmer! She loved mathematics and machines from childhood and worked closely with Charles Babbage, inventor of a primitive computer. When Alan Turing created the first modern computer in 1940, he used her notes from nearly a hundred years before. 

Despite facing incredibly strict societal norms that limited women’s education and involvement in the sciences, she followed her passions. Her work wasn’t recognized until much later in history when the true impact of her programming skills was realized, but she serves as an incredible inspiration for breaking down barriers in tech in time when that simply wasn’t done.

Grace Hopper 

Being one of the first female Admirals in the US Navy isn’t Grace Hopper’s only claim to fame: in 1952, she wrote the world’s first computer compiler. But that’s not all; she also helped create one of the world’s first programming languages (COBOL), standardizing the military’s computers so that everything was better organized and easier to access.

She has a US Navy Warship named after her (one of only two women to have been awarded this honor) and is even credited with coining the term “debugging” after finding an actual bug within her computer. 

Hedy Lamarr

Despite beginning her career as an actor, Hedy Lamarr would help World War II efforts by helping to create a secret communication system that helped lead to the creation of WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth technology. This frequency hopping technology is credited to Lamarr, now known as the Mother of WiFi. 

Raised Jewish in Austria in the early 1900s, Lamarr fled to London and immediately showed an interest in the machinery involved in war efforts and let her creativity fly. She even created a new plane designed for higher level of speeds for the Americans; however, her fame is associated with the design of the frequency hopping technology used to locate torpedoes amongst radio waves. 

Annie Easley

Breaking down both race and gender barriers, Annie Easley was one of the first Black scientists to work at NASA and at the time was one of four Black employees out of around 2500 total workers at NASA. She is best known for working on the team that created the software for the Centaur rocket stage, advancing science’s overall knowledge of satellites and space travel. 

In addition to her work in science, she helped other Black Americans study to pass the voting test, which was a requirement to vote due to the active Jim Crow laws of the time. 

Radia Perlman

Credited as the Mother of the Internet, Radia Perlman worked tirelessly on networks, making self-organization and data movement possible and establishing the basics of internet traffic. She developed the algorithm used in the Spanning Tree Protocol, which supports the internet as we know it today. 

She attended MIT, where the number of women allowed to enroll was limited by space in the university’s single all-female dorm (around 50 spots for women among 1000 men). Later, the university introduced co-ed dorms, where Perlman moved to, but was still surrounded by men in her STEM classes, frequently being the only women in attendance. It became so normal to only see men in her classes that she would think how strange it was to see another woman if there happened to be another in class. 

Katherine Johnson

Instrumental in the ability of the US to safely reach space, Katherine Johnson worked at NASA as one of the first Black mathematicians, manually solving incredibly complex mathematical problems that helped the US space program get off its feet in the early days. She worked on verifying flight paths for astronauts, helping the US put their first astronaut in space. 

She was part of major advances for NASA, helping John Glenn successfully orbit the Earth and the US send three men to the moon in 1969. When she passed away at the age of 101 in 2020, NASA released the following statement: 

“Our NASA family is sad to learn the news that Katherine Johnson passed away this morning at 101 years old. She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten."

Encouraging Women in Tech

The aforementioned women are quite the inspiration, right? We think so and at Ironhack, we’re dedicated to encouraging more and more women to join the tech workforce and become the next generation of female techies. But if you’re looking for ways to lift up women at your company or in your personal life, follow these tips and tricks.

Work actively against gender bias

You’ve heard the saying, “if you see something, say something” and that’s because identifying and calling out occasions of gender bias can help not only improve your workplace for women, but also show others that this kind of behavior is simply not tolerated. If you witness examples of gender bias at work, such as comments about a woman’s parenting style or pregnancy plans, address them immediately. 

Build women up 

Lots of women choose not to enter the tech workforce because of what they think will happen or what they’ve heard about being a woman in tech. Take every opportunity to encourage your female colleagues to go for a promotion or speak up, cheering them on and ensuring they’re receiving the same opportunities as their male counterparts. 

Break down the institutions that limit women 

Societal expectations can be just as destructive as workplace bias; if society places unfair pressure on women to get married and stay at home to raise their kids, women may feel like they have no way to continue their career. Promoting healthy work/life balances and understanding that women may be unfairly tasked with caring for sick family members or putting their career on hold can help women have the same opportunities as men, despite societal expectations. 

And if you’re a woman looking to get into tech, but are intimidated by tech’s “boy’s club” reputation, keep these tips in mind: 

  • Creating a strong network can help you be inspired by other women in tech and give you resources if you need an extra push of inspiration.

  • Staying persistent and resilient may be a challenge at first, but it will help you reach your goals and make tech brighter for the future generation of female techies. 

  • Reminding yourself that you belong in technology is key–tech is for anyone and anyone who tells you otherwise is simply wrong. 

At Ironhack, we’re dedicated to preparing everyone to enter the workforce through offering flexible and accessible bootcamps that teach you exactly what you need to know to land that first job in tech. Choose from remote or in-person courses, in addition to full or part time programs, so that you’re able to find your way into tech. 

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