Could You Name Five Famous Women In Tech?

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Naming five famous women in tech isn’t a conundrum pub quiz question that’s actually simpler than you think. Nor is one of the answers “Alexa”. It’s a bonafide head-scratcher. And having pondered this for some time, and then searched on Google, I found the answer: I could name none.

This comes a full year after a Google engineer suggested that the male domination of Silicon Valley is due to irreversible biological causes. His medieval views may have earned him the sack and global notoriety, but they also put the gender gap debate onto the table.

Today (18/09/2018) a Women in DevOps meetup in London continues the conversation.

“Females populate only 17% of the UK tech industry,” says panel host Emily McDonald, of Refinery29, a digital media platform for women.

Furthermore, she continues, “Only 5% of senior leadership positions are women”.

Despite the stark statistics, the evening’s message is one of genuine positivity.

Panel guest and Senior DevOps Engineer at CBRE, Laura Herrera, says “things are changing… the culture is changing”.

Have You Experienced A Gender Bias?

In an age where conspicuous gender bias is rightly met with disciplinary action, the gender bias that persists is more “unconscious”. Or, as the only male on the panel, Simon Martin, Manager of Production Engineering at Facebook, calls it, “micro-biases”.

Martin talks of Facebook’s research that shows women [in the workplace] are likely to be interrupted ten times more than men. To overcome this, Facebook introduced the ‘Be An Ally’ programme which trains people (see these slightly creepy, but well intentioned videos) to notice micro-bias such as interpreting people, and, crucially, to call them out.

Panel host McDonald enthusiastically buts in at this point:

“A male boss did that for me once [highlighted when another man was being gender bias] and it was the best thing!”

Despite the panel agreeing that gender micro bias exist throughout their workplaces and careers, Amanda Colpoys, Head of Agile Coaching at Moonpighas had an supportive and positive gender experience since moving into the tech space five years ago:

“Before I was in the media [industry] and it was very different. I’m more valued here. I’m lucky to work with companies that have a progressive, healthy culture that encourages inclusive behaviour”.

Closing The Gap

To build on the current 17% of women making up the tech workforce, one pivotal area that is being developed is the process of keeping and attracting talented female professionals between the ages of 35–50. Fourth panelist, Annelies Valk, Global Brand Strategy Manager at Vodafone, speaks of the ReConnect programme: the world’s largest recruitment programme for women on career breaks, operating across 26 countries. Now, she says, Vodafone are very successful in recruiting and retaining women in that age bracket.

The biggest challenge, therefore, in closing the gap is to change young girls’ perception of working in tech, says host McDonald:

“According to a recent PWC [PricewaterhouseCoopers] study of 2,000 A-level female students, only 20% would consider a job in tech, whilst a mere 3% had it as their first choice.”

For Moonpig’s Amanda Colpoys, this can partly be attributed to tech’s nerdy reputation:

“Outside of the actual tech space, people think that tech is full of geeks! When really it’s full of incredibly passionate, interesting and creative people. That message needs to get out there more.”

The Famous Five?

If promising initiatives like ReConnect are helping women aged 35+ back into tech, then a reputation upgrade is needed to inspire more school girls into the wider STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) community.

Host Emily McDonald succinctly sums up the quandary when she says:

“Kids can only aspire to what they see…”

And therein lies a root problem — and potential solution — of the gender gap issue in tech. More females in senior positions are needed and their success needs to celebrated in the media. Only then can they become household names, hold water alongside the (male) “greats” of digital era, and inspire women of all ages into one of the highest earning — and exciting — industries in the world.

For the record, my Google search for ‘five famous women in tech’ threw up curious results:

The first page was Five top women in tech history. This featured history-makers such as the first female computer science PhD, Sister Mary Kenneth Keller (1913–1985), and, “the queen of software”, Grace Hopper (1906–1992). But no one from after the 1960s…

The second search result thankfully provided me with more contemporary answers. According to this Most powerful women in tech 2017 article the “top five” are:

#1 Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook)

#2 Susan Wojcicki (CEO, YouTube)

#3 Ginni Rometty (President, IBM)

#4 Meg Whitman (ex-CEO, HP)

#5 Angela Ahrendts (Vice President, Apple).

Did you know these women in tech?

I’ll let you do your own research and find out more.