What if we told you that women are the true pioneers of tech? For this annual International Women's Day, discover roles women have played throughout the history of tech—from its beginnings to today.
While the IT sector is one of the engines of today's economy and employment in this market continues to grow much faster than in other sectors, women remain very underrepresented with just 16% of the IT workforce, according to Urban Linker.
This trend, however, was quite the opposite between the 19th and 20th centuries, since most programming was done by women, who played a vital role in the creation of the computer tools we know today. Let's retrace the history of tech to give you a bit of context:
The history of women in IT
Mathematician Ada Lovelace and the first computer program
In collaboration with the mathematician Charles Babbage, inventor of the mechanical calculator, Ada Lovelace created the first software algorithm in 1843. Trained from an early age in the hard sciences by brilliant scientists, she already sensed the potential impact of computers on our society. She was driven by the ambition to create a true "poetic science."
Actress, film producer, and inventor Hedy Lamarr and the beginnings of wi-fi
In 1941, Hedy Lamarr filed a patent to secure telecommunications. As the Second World War claimed thousands and thousands of victims, Hedy, a great lover of inventions, decided to create an encryption system with her friend George Antheil, a pianist and inventor. This system that would allow the military to communicate secretly and deceive the enemy. The invention was then made free of charge to the U.S. Army. This transmission principle is still used for wi-fi, Bluetooth, and GPS—but also during encrypted military links.
The "ENIAC six" and the first fully electronic computer
Between 1944 and 1955, six mathematicians, Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman, were the first to program the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer). Initially conceived for the U.S. Army, this computer is one of the first in history!
Computer scientist and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper and the first compiler
Grace Hopper, then convinced that an English-based programming language was possible, imagined the notion of a "compiler:" a program that combines both source code and a language that's more accessible to developers. In 1951, she set up the first compiler, named A-0 System, and in 1955, she created the FLOW-MATIC language (also called B-0).
American church sister Mary Keller and her computer thesis
At the time, women were not allowed to enter computer centers, but this detail didn't deter Mary Keller from following her ambitions.
With the participation of a dozen other students, she defended the first thesis in computer science and participated in the development of BASIC (Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code)—a family of high-level yet easy-to-use programming languages. She received her PhD in 1965.
Computer scientist, systems engineer, and business leader Margaret Hamilton and the Apollo program
At the age of 23, Margaret Hamilton
joined MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), where she already
began to create computer programs for weather forecasting and modeling.
At the age of 25, she was asked to develop the on-board system for the Apollo 11 space program so that the first humans could set foot on the moon in 1969.
We give gratitude to Margaret Hamilton for:
- computers' ability to prioritize tasks
- the basics of modern computing
- the term "software engineering"
Why has the IT sector seen a drop in the number of women?
Whereas half of the digital workforce had been female in the 1950s, it wasn't until the 1990s that IT became a strategic issue for companies of all sizes (startups, SMEs, and larger companies) and governments in the broader sense. The number of men in the tech workforce increased, to the detriment of women, and we witnessed a real phenomenon of masculinization of the sector.
As time goes by, fewer and fewer women are being asked to work in these jobs, which are perceived as "masculine."
Here are a few numbers on inequality in the tech sector:
- 20% of women worked in the cybersecurity industry in the 1980s-1990s, while only 11% of the cyber workforce is female today.
- IT operator positions used to be predominantly female until the 1990s, when these positions transformed and began to require more qualifications. Now, the emergence of new jobs such as computer operations and maintenance operator reinforces the female minority in favor of male candidates.
- The TrustRadius study "Women in tech report highlights" testifies to the understaffing of women in IT—notably due to the fact that 78% of women feel they have to work harder than their male colleagues in order to prove their worth. What's more two out of every five feel they face a higher number of barriers to get promoted in this sector.
- In 2019, there were far fewer female computer science and digital graduates than male graduates (28% female vs. 59% male).
This led to what would later be referred to as "bro culture," conveying stereotypes and discrimination against women's skills and ability to play the role of tech experts and leading to a reduction in the proportion of women in the tech workforce.
However, a desire for parity and professional equality within the digital sector has resurfaced in recent years. Companies of all sizes—startups, SMEs, and larger companies alike—are seeking more female candidates, and conversely, a growing number of women are expressing interest in the IT sector.
"To all learners, don't hesitate to get started! This sector is growing, and there's a great demand for all types of new recruits. What's more, you shouldn't be afraid of this environment that remains predominantly male for the moment. Otherwise, it will only remain so—and that would be a shame!"—Servanne, Information Systems Security Specialist (Alumni)
Women belong in today's digital world
More and more female candidates sought
Numerous studies - such as Gender Scan in partnership with UNESCO, for example - prove that mixed teams are not only more successful because of their diversity, but also more innovative.
While these professions are less and less seen as purely male, the trend for women to work in tech is being revised upwards:
- 28% of women in tech believe that gender parity has improved in recent years within their company, according to the TrustRadius survey "Women in tech report highlights."
- According to AnitaB.org's report shows that the percentage of women in tech in general is getting stronger with each passing year. Women occupied a 28.8% share of the workforce in 2020 vs. 25.9% in 2018.
- Wild Code School has an average return to employment rate of 82%, but a higher rate of employment for women (86%).
These figures illustrate the following global movement: companies and employers are willing to bridge the current imbalance by recruiting more female candidates.
Who are the inspiring female figures in tech today?
From a very young age, our vocations are driven by role models, figures who inspire us. These are unbelievably valuable in the digital field. They can also change the perceptions of younger people about the place of women in tech.
A look at the women to watch in the digital sector for 2022:
- Engineer and Mathematician Anne Marie Imafidon, voted the most influential woman in tech in the UK in 2022.
- Data-driven entrepreneur Tugce Bulut, founder of Streetbees, an Artificial Intelligence platform that collects (anonymous) data from its users for a fee, to help companies and media better understand the behavior of people around the world as well as their consumption habits, lifestyles, and opinions.
- Computer Scientist and YouTuber Estefannie, who loves designing inventions and sharing findings, discoveries, prototypes, and experiments on her YouTube and Instagram accounts.
- Product Designer and Software Engineer Lenora Porter, a former schoolteacher who developed her passion for tech. She is now active on her Facebook group "Black Women in UX Design" as well as her YouTube and Twitch channels, where she shares her tech knowledge and gives tips for a successful career.
- The entrepreneur and Wild Code School’s founder and CEO Anna Stépanoff, passionate about education and tech and working for the inclusion of women in these future professions. Mother of three children and entrepreneur, she's a model for women with successful tech careers.
- Many more!
"We also work hand in hand with the schools that train our professions to highlight role models by giving [Ubisoft Ivory Tower] women the opportunity to share their journeys and speak to students. It makes sense to create vocations for young women and encourage them to get involved in [the video game industry]. Go for it! You're capable, courageous, and just as justified as man. Do it for yourself—but also for future generations. Your choices today will make the difference tomorrow. And if you falter at first, do it again!"— Anne, Talent Acquisition Specialist at Ubisoft Ivory Tower (Partner)
The future of women in tech
Digital technology and women: towards the feminization of professions?
Since the masculinization of the candidates in the tech professions, they're not the most valued by young girls. So, it's not surprising that males dominate the vast majority of the sector's workforce. As we saw above, paradoxically to the emergence of new professions in the sector, there would be only 16% of women in tech positions in 2022, according to Urban Linker. Although there are still a considerable number of barriers for women in the IT world, two phenomena have been emerging in recent years:
- Tech companies are looking for more female candidates and are starting to value gender diversity within their teams.
- The appeal of digital professions is growing among women.
For this reason, there are more women in tech:
- 33% of employees at large global tech companies in 2022, according to a study by Deloitte Global.
- 25% of all people working in GAFAMs in 2020, according to a study by Statista.
In addition, the growing proportion of women among Wild Code School’s students affirms this trend: 29% in 2020 vs 33% in 2021. And this is just the beginning of the race to reach parity!
"No more clichés of the pimply-faced geek developer with glasses locked in the dark! Web development is within the reach of anyone who is motivated and invested! As women, we can bring something different to the profession. I've noticed that we sometimes have a sharper eye for the practicality of certain features. We can be an asset to a team and we shouldn't be afraid to take the plunge."—Sophie, Web Developer (Alumni)
How can we promote women in IT?
You may be wondering what actions we could take to boost the number of women in tech. Here are a few ideas:
- Raise awareness among young girls in elementary, junior high, and high schools about the current and future challenges of tech professions and their increased accessibility for women.
- Highlight female models in tech, whatever their background: developers, data analysts, product managers, cybersecurity analysts, tech entrepreneurs... in career transition, upskilling or specialization.
- Award scholarships to encourage women to join the tech world, just as Wild Code School was able to do in 2017 with its European program "Women are Programming".
- Promote the voice of women in tech by organizing dedicated Women in Tech events, conferences, trade shows, and awareness campaigns.
- Create 100% female promos, as Wild Code School was able to do in 2017 with the first edition of its "Elles codent!" (Women write code) theme on its Paris campus.
- Encourage female tech professionals to become entrepreneurs, join their company's leadership boards, and take on ever more ambitious initiatives.
- Much more ongoing efforts!
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