Ada Lovelace Day highlights women’s role in IT

On Ada Lovelace day, we celebrate her contributions to IT while looking at ongoing gender issues in the industry

On Ada Lovelace day, which is being celebrated today in honour of a woman seen as instrumental in shaping programming as we know it today, it seems appropriate to look at where women stand in today's tech industry, and why recognition of her achievements are so important.

The day itself was founded by Suw Charman-Anderson, who wanted to create an occasion on which to "raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths."

 Women are just as committed and capable as men when it comes to building a career and having a positive impact on the world.

Lovelace is remembered specifically for her work with friend Charles Babbage on the Analytical Engine. Her notes on the engine, added to a translation of engineer Luigi Menabrea's article, are now considered by many to be the first computer program.

The attitude towards women in tech is an ongoing issue, hitting the headlines on occasions such as when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella claimed that female employees asking for a pay rise could be "bad karma."

He later apologised for his comments via a full blog post entitled Empowering Others,' stating: "it was great to spend time with so many women passionate about technology. I was honoured to be a part of it and I left the conference energised and inspired."

As quoted by the FindingAda site in relation to today's celebration, a study conducted by psychologist Penelope Lockwood found that female role models may be more valuable to women than male role models are to men.

"Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success, illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them," she said. "They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable."

In June 2014 the BCS, the chartered institute for IT and electronic skills, revealed the gender gap in the industry is actually getting wider.

According to their results, only 16 per cent of the IT workforce in the UK is female, and female students only make up 6.5 per cent of A-level computing courses. And the problems start even earlier only 13 per cent of GCSE computer science students are girls.

Female specialists also earn about 16 per cent less than their male counterparts, according to the same results, and the number of women in the industry has actually fallen by 4 per cent since 2001.

Chairwoman of BCS Women, Gillian Arnold, said: "The continuing decline in women entering the IT profession is a real threat for the UK and an issue that clearly we need to address."

Last summer, LinkedIn's worker demographic report revealed that 39 per cent of its employees are women, which is only slightly better than Google's at just 30 per cent.

A government-backed campaign from the Science Museum aimed at encouraging more girls to pursue careers in engineering and technology while at school was launched in May, with co-founder of customer data analysis firm, Dunnhumby, Edwina Dunn saying: "For people choosing their path in life, they represent enormous opportunity to pioneer technologies of the future, to innovate and to make the most of their potential, talent and creativity."

There are many dedications to Ada Lovelace that solidify her importance to the tech industry, including the United States Department of Defence's computer language Ada' and the Ada Initiative, but 13 October celebrated across the world is a good opportunity to recognise her and many other women of the past's considerable contribution to modern computing, despite ongoing issues.

"Ada worked in an environment that, to put it mildly, hindered the intellectual and vocational progress of women," writes Dr Timo Hannay, managing director of Digital Science, on the event's site. "Society has changed since then, as has science. Women are just as committed and capable as men when it comes to building a career and having a positive impact on the world."

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