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Recognizing women in tech on Ada Lovelace Day

Elena Pascual

Data Engineer, Amadeus

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Ada Lovelace Day is celebrated globally this year on the 8th of October, recognizing women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Its purpose is to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers and thus increase the number of women in the fields, creating role models and supporting women who already work in STEM.

Ada Lovelace is recognized as one of the first computer programmers in history. Her mother encouraged her to study logic, science and mathematics as she feared Ada would inherit her father’s poetic personality – her father being Lord Byron. She became interested in the Babbage analytical engine and worked on his initial algorithm, adding notes and expanding it. This was regarded as the first computer program in history.

In my case, I became interested in computers when my parents bought me an ordilingua, a children’s computer with learning exercises, when I was ten years old. I found it very entertaining. At this point I wasn’t aware of social conventions in STEM. However, when my parents bought a Pentium II for the family four years later and I became more interested, the media represented computer scientists with the typical male computer geek stereotype. Luckily, there were also movies like Jurassic Park that showed a pre-teen girl who helped to get the computer system back online.

Later in the nineties, media in Spain started talking about computer engineers and the employment prospects they enjoyed, which also appealed to me. With my parents’ support, I decided to pursue a career in computer science.

When I entered my thirties, I began questioning whether I should remain in IT or lead my career towards education or human resources as I started feeling isolated and bored because of the lack of diversity in my teams.

I have always worked in teams where women never represented more than 10% of the people and I had very few female role models. I wondered if my motivations to leave the IT sector were subjective, so I decided to do some research about past and current women figures in STEM. To my surprise, I found a growing community of women in science and engineering who work towards gender-equality in STEM and many of whom had also at one point felt like me.

I also learnt about the significant contributions of women in STEM fields like Jocelyn Bell,  who discovered the first radio-pulsars, or Grace Hopper,  who wrote the first compiler. And, did you know that the first computerized flight reservation system was created by a woman? She was Evelyn Berezin,  an American computer designer who also created the first word processor. Hedy Lamarr,  an Austrian Hollywood actress and self-taught inventor patented a frequency-hopper system, on which most military communication systems, GPS and phones rely nowadays for wireless communications. And of course, Marie Curie,  who won two Nobel prizes in two different categories.

In spite of the numerous examples of women in STEM, there is still a substantial gender gap. According to studies the causes vary, to cite a few:

  • Misconception of men having more intellectual capability for math and science. In spite of girls and boys performing similarly in such subjects in early years, girls start losing confidence during their teenage years as they have the perception they are not as intellectually prepared as boys. 1 2 3 4
  • Stereotypes and educational differences. According to OECD indicators, parents expect sons to pursue STEM careers more than daughters.4
  • Wage gap. There is still an important difference in earnings, men tend to have higher salaries than their fellow women. 4
 

So, what can we do to move towards gender-equality?  According to some experts , diverse environments are more productive, resulting in better products and services. Examples on what to do:

  • Stimulate interest in girls in STEM-related subjects and ensure educators are equipped with gender-equality approaches.
  • Give more visibility to women already in STEM careers so girls – and boys - have more female references.
  •  Support women in STEM, as they are more likely to leave due to factors like isolation, hostile work environments and ineffective feedback.
  • Show diversity in media. 

I personally feel not only more comfortable but also much more motivated when working in a diverse team, as I do here in Amadeus. This has been eye-opening experience, because it’s the first time I have worked in a company with a very good gender ratio and colleagues from various backgrounds with whom I share a common passion and who recognize and value the different perspectives we all bring. An experience that shows me what the future could look like.

       1S.L. Hanson, "Lost Talent, Women in the Sciences", Philadelphia, PA.: Temple University Press, 1996.

       2Frank Pajares . “Self-Efficacy Beliefs and Mathematical Problem-Solving of Gifted Students.”. Emory University. 1996,

       3Ceci, S.J.; Williams, W.M.; Barnett, S.M. (2009). "Women's underrepresentation in science: Sociocultural and biological considerations"

       4OECD (2015), Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris,https://doi.org/10.1787/eag-2015-en

 


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