The legacy of Ada Lovelace

The legacy of Ada Lovelace

The world’s first computer programme was written 175 years ago, by Ada Lovelace. Yet today the computing, technology and ICT sectors are dominated by men. Why is this still the case?

Ada Lovelace was a computer scientist ahead of her time. Back in the 1800s, female access to education was limited, but Ada was raised in an aristocratic family and her mother believed that she should focus on mathematics and science, as well as learning music and French. Her social status gave her opportunities that most women could not aspire to.

When Ada met Professor Charles Babbage, who was developing a calculating machine, Ada’s interest was triggered. She wanted to know more about how it worked. A French engineer who followed Babbage’s work closely wrote a paper describing his machine, which, by then, had evolved into an analytical engine. Ada heard about this paper and decided to translate it into English and shared it with Babbage. He encouraged her to write a similar paper, an assignment she took up with enthusiasm. Her paper led to the first computer programme in history.

Sadly, Ada died at the very young age of 37. She was a true forerunner of her time. She was followed by other great women who contributed to great technological and digital progress, including Margaret Hamilton (coined the term ‘software engineering’), Irene Greif (the first woman to earn a PH.D. in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Katherine Johnson (her mathematical skills were critical to the first and subsequent U.S. manned spaceflights) and Grace Hopper (one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer).

Despite these inspiring role models, there is an imbalance in the number of females pursuing ICT-related studies and careers. In the EU, the number of female students between 20 and 29 years of age, completing STEM-related tertiary studies (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) was 26% in 2015.

In 2017, women employed as ICT specialists in the EU only amounted to 17.2%. This number is disappointingly low, but what raises more concern is the fact that it has decreased during the last 10 years (22.5% female ICT specialists in 2007).

A recent study showed that in 2015, the share of women in the digital world progressively decreases along the career path: starting with approximately 25% as graduates in ICT-related fields and ending with 13% working in digital jobs. In addition, data from the same study indicate that the number of women working in the ICT field tends to decline with age: 4.7 % female ICT professionals are younger than 30 while only 3.2 % are 45 years or older.

While some of these statistics can be explained by simple biology, it still remains a difficult trend to understand. Why are so few girls and women pursuing these careers?

The same study on Women in the Digital Age put forward some possible answers.

  • Gender stereotypes tend to influence our choices from early stages and throughout our lives. They affect the way we perceive women and men, their capabilities and what is appropriate (or not) for each sex.
  • The difficulty in reconciling professional and private life was also highlighted as a negative factor to retain female talent in ICT-related careers. The widely-known phenomenon of the glass ceiling is deeply rooted in the ICT sector. This may be explained due to unconscious biases in relation to women’s leadership abilities, informal and formal internal policies that block women’s career progression.
  • A lack of female role models (including leadership positions) seem to perpetuate stereotypes and biases which do not encourage women to pursue ICT-related careers and contribute to a masculinised professional setting.

everis is a digitally- and technology-driven company. We actively try to foster the interests of girls (and boys) in ICT-related studies and professions to match the increasing demand for such talent.

In 2015 we launched the Pulsar Programme, which has been growing internationally ever since. A network of female professionals mentors and shares their knowledge and experiences with girls aged between 15 – 18 years old. Together, they work on developing skills including leadership, autonomy, communication, creativity and risk-taking.

We also run an initiative which includes programming and robotics workshops for girls and boys. In this programme, we challenge the youngsters to program a code to control robotic parts, design joysticks and electronics to move the robot, or even to build their own robot.

Bearing in mind the trends set out in the report, we continue to invest in retaining and empowering the talent we have at everis to ensure all our staff have fulfilling careers. This includes balancing work and person life.

Attitude makes the difference and everis is always on the lookout for the Lovelaces of the world!


Photo Author: Emgravey at wikipedia.