Friday is Ada Lovelace Day, an international day celebrating the achievements of women in science, tech, engineering and maths. Named after the woman widely held to be the first computer programmer, the day is in its third year now, and is going from strength to strength.
The objectification of women is bad enough when it’s done by the media, but when it’s done by a conference organiser or tech commentator or famous tech publication, what message does it send? Nothing but “You will never be taken seriously, but we might take notice of you if you’re hot.”
But what to do? Well, let’s pull back from the anger a little, and start to look instead at why it might be that women feel less secure in their abilities than most men, and what might help change that. Undoubtedly it’s a complex issue, but recent research may shed some light: Psychologist Penelope Lockwood discovered that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male ones.
Well, that’s a relatively simple problem to begin to address. If women need female role models, let’s come together to highlight the women in technology that we look up to. Let’s create new role models and make sure that whenever the question “Who are the leading women in tech?” is asked, that we all have a list of candidates on the tips of our tongues.
The celebration began with a simple pledge on British civil action site, Pledgebank, which was signed by nearly 2,000 people. In 2010, we held our first official event. And this year, our new website features a directory of women in science, tech, engineering and maths which we hope will help promote women working in these fields.
The day itself — which lasts 50 hours when you add it all up — is well underway and the tweets from participants are coming thick and fast. The hope is that, as people talk more about the women they admire, it will become easier for everyone to recognise — and remember — the female tech luminaries that are currently overlooked.
If you find that you can’t currently namecheck three Indian women in tech off the top of your head, check out this year’s winners of the Google India Women in Engineering Award. Inaugurated in 2008, the award highlights “women students in computer science and related majors, and inspire them to become active participants and leaders in creating technology.” These are the CTOs, entrepreneurs and ground-breakers of the future.
Or pop along to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing India in Bangalore in December. Nominations for their Women Entrepreneur Quest, a “contest designed to promote and showcase early-stage technology ventures founded or led by women entrepreneurs in all technologies” are open until 31 October, so you have plenty of time to nominate the women leaders you admire.
But, just as the rest of the world, there is still plenty of work to be done on balancing out gender ratios in Indian tech. Only last year, Reuters’ Kavita Chandran moderated a women in tech panel discussion at a Bangalore tech event:
[T]here was one common thread that bound [the participants] together — their fight against society, among other odds, to gain their glories.
“When I told my family that I wanted to join IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Kharagpur 40 years ago, my relatives said I will be ‘an unmarketable product in the marriage market’,” said Jharna Majumdar, a professor at a technology institute in Bangalore and the retired Head of Aerial Image Exploitation Division (AIED) at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
Research by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology from 2007 found that, while the number of women in technical fields was growing, it is still very low indeed. For example, the percentage of women engineers graduating from ITT Bombay has grown from 1.8% in 1972 to 8% in 2005. Rising 6.2% in 33 years isn’t exactly an astounding success, but it is at least movement in the right direction.
The truth is that it takes time and persistence to change perception, which means that one, or two, or even three Ada Lovelace Days won’t be enough. We need to keep working on raising the profile of women in tech, year after year, month after month, day after day. And this is where you come in.
Who are the notable women in the Indian tech scene? The entrepreneurs, the designers, the coders, the CTOs? Which women have inspired you? Whose achievements do you admire? I want to be able to walk way from this Ada Lovelace Day knowing a lot more about the successful Indian women in tech. Tell me who your Ada Lovelace Day heroines are in the comments!