The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BeBoldForChange. The annual event is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, but it also marks a call to action for narrowing the Gender Gap, which the World Economic Forum predicts won’t close entirely until 2186.
The tech sector has long been a male-dominated world, but here at Azimo we’re smashing that tradition with 38% females in the business and rising. And to show our backing for IWD, we’ve lined up 10 of the most influential women in tech during the last 200 years, all of whom saw the importance of Being Bold for Change. Enjoy the list and Tweet your support!
Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)
“My comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand”
Ada Lovelace, aka the ‘Countess of Computing’, is a pioneering symbol for women working in tech today and in the future. The trailblazing 19th-century maths whizz collaborated with inventor Charles Babbage on his general-purpose computing machine and wrote the very first published computer algorithm, which foreshadowed the advent of modern computing more than a century later. The signs of genius were there from an early age – by the time she was 12, she had already conceptualised a flying machine!
Grace Hopper (1906-1992)
“I’ve always been more interested in the future than in the past”
Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was a remarkable woman. Nicknamed “Amazing Grace”, she rose through the ranks of the US Navy and changed the world of computing forever along the way. She started out working on the 51ft-long Mark I computer in 1944 and went on to create the first compiler for computer languages (designed to convert high-level language into machine code). But, above all, she regarded all the young people she trained as her greatest accomplishment.
Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)
“Films have a certain place in a certain time period. Technology is forever”
Everyone remembers silver-screen idol Hedy Lamarr in blockbusters such as Samson and Delilah, but it’s her second career that earns her place in our list. Invariably typecast as a glamorous seductress, she began to fall out of love with the Hollywood machine – and turned her focus towards another machine altogether. In the 1940s, Lamarr and her business partner developed a “Secret Communication System” to stop classified messages from being intercepted by enemy forces. The pioneering invention was meant for military use, but it’s now a crucial part of GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology.
Katherine Johnson (b.1918)
“I counted everything: the steps, the dishes, the stars in the sky”
From humble beginnings as a young African-American girl growing up in West Virginia, Katherine Johnson’s career journey has been extraordinary. Working as one of NASA’s ‘human computers’, she has crunched the numbers on everything from the US’s first manned space flight to the moon landings to the Space Shuttle programme. Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2015 and found global fame in 2016 when her story was turned into blockbusting feature film Hidden Figures.
Dame Stephanie Shirley (b.1933)
“You can always tell ambitious women by the shape of our heads: they’re flat on top for being patted patronisingly”
Photo: Bret Hartman/TED
Born in Dortmund in 1933, Dame Stephanie Shirley was forced to flee to Britain as a five-year-old on the Kindertransport. In 1962, at the age of just 29, she created one of the very first coding companies in the UK – she even signed her name as Steve to win early contracts in a very male-dominated world. She employed women almost exclusively, including plenty of stay-at-home mums, and taught them to code on punch cards – these same mums ended up programming the Concorde black box. Having started with £6, Dame Shirley was worth £150 million when her company peaked in the 1980s.
Radia Perlman (b.1951)
“The kind of diversity that I think really matters isn’t skin shade and body shape, but different ways of thinking”
Network engineer and software developer Radia Perlman has been referred to as the “Mother of the Internet”, although it’s a title that she admits makes her cringe. But the reluctant hero is a fully-fledged legend of the networking world for writing the algorithm behind the first Spanning Tree Protocol (STP). The protocol transformed Ethernet from a technology that could only work with a few nodes over a limited distance into something that could run across much larger networks.
Ursula Burns (b.1958)
“I’m an advocate for change and eager to break a little glass when needed”
Ursula Burns had a tough start in life, raised by a single mother on one of Manhattan’s low-income housing projects. But her mother instilled in her that “where I was didn’t define who I was”. Courage and a strong work ethic led her to an MSc in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University, an internship at Xerox and, three decades later, her appointment as the firm’s CEO – the first ever black CEO of a Fortune 500 company. She is also one of the founding board directors of Change the Equation, an organisation that focuses on improving STEM-based education in the US.
Sheryl Sandberg (b.1969)
“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat”
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
No tech trailblazer list would be complete without the inclusion of Facebook COO, bestselling author, working mother and Silicon Valley supremo Sheryl Sandberg. Her stellar career has seen her rise to the tech top table via Harvard, the World Bank and Google, and her estimated net worth now tops $1.3 billion. But she’s also a mentor for many and makes it on to the list thanks to her unrelenting desire to support and inspire women in tech to achieve their ambitions. And they listen – her TED talk on “Why we have too few women leaders” has been viewed nearly seven million times.
Martha Lane Fox (b.1973)
“We are creating things that are less diverse than they could be, because women aren’t embedded in the design process”
Photo via Flickr
Martha Lane Fox co-founded Lastminute.com with Brent Hoberman in 1998. Just seven years later, the company was bought for a whopping £577 million. In the intervening period she had survived the dotcom collapse, as well as a near-fatal car crash in Morocco. This success alone would be impressive enough, but Lane Fox’s achievements don’t end there. She co-founded the Lucky Voice karaoke chain, sits on the boards of M&S, Mydeco and Twitter, is a member of the House of Lords and works as a tireless champion for digital inclusion, wherever and whoever you are.
Kathryn Parsons (b.1982)
“We said from the beginning that anyone and everyone needs to understand code”
Photo via Flickr
Kathryn Parsons, the youngest person on our list, is on a mission. She wants to increase digital literacy by teaching the world to code – and that’s exactly what she’s doing via her London-based tech start-up Decoded, which she co-founded in 2011. The company offers one-day courses in programming and the deal is simple: turn up in the morning as a coding novice and you’ll leave the same day having created your own app on your phone. It’s not cheap, but the masterclass gives you the language, confidence and understanding to communicate in a digital world.
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