If you haven’t heard of Ada Lovelace before, she’s a pivotal (and clearly unsung) figure in the history of technology. Born in 1815, she was an English mathematician known for her work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, an innovation widely acknowledged as the first design for a general purpose computer.
Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer, as in 1842 she recognized that the machine was capable of much more than simple calculations and wrote the first algorithm – moving beyond the functionality of a simple abacus to set humanity on a trajectory for subsequent technological innovations.
Considering that the first programmer was female, the history and contributions of computing should by all rights look vastly different. However, as is evident from the current statistics of women working in STEM, the momentum of those first dramatic steps was lost. In fact, women have been severely underrepresented in both STEM and leadership positions for decades, and while the trend is changing, there are still miles to go to achieve equality.
Recent reports from the World Economic Forum, the National Science Federation, and a LeanIn.org and McKinsey joint study illustrate the feeling many women in tech struggle with every day into concrete numbers:
- Only 1 in 4 C-suite executives are women.
- For every 100 men promoted from entry level to manager, only 87 women are promoted. 
- 37% of women leaders have had a coworker take credit for their efforts, while only 27% of men experienced the same situation.
- 32% of women in technical and engineering roles are often the only woman in the room
- Women leaders are twice as likely to be mistaken for someone more junior.
- There are only 12.3 million women (about 35% of the workforce) in STEM roles in 2023. 
- In technology women comprise about 24% of leadership roles and in infrastructure it is as low as 16%. 
- 91% said gender discrimination remains a career obstacle and 100% reported self-doubt and lack of confidence as an obstacle, according to a report by the Society for Women’s Health Research. 
Our Responsibility to the Next Generation
Personally, over the course of my career I have positive and negative experiences as a woman in technology. On the plus side, I have never had to wait in line for a restroom at a technology conference. But in different times, and different roles, I have been talked over. I’ve had my ideas discounted only to be embraced when a male colleague suggested the same approach. I’ve been told I’m too emotional and I should smile more. I’ve been told I’m too aggressive and intimidating. I’ve been told to watch my body language. Frankly, the number of times I’ve been told to not be myself over the years is exhausting to think about.
As a learned response to these experiences, I have become a staunch supporter of other women in technology, and an advocate for claiming your rightful space in conference rooms and Zoom calls – as it should be.
Meanwhile, a report commissioned by CW jobs in May 2022 found that 60% of women working in STEM careers have been inspired by role models, compared to only 46% of men. 
In short, we owe it to the women coming behind us to show them what’s possible and to aim for higher and higher positions. And if we do, there is significant upside:
- Hiring women into STEM roles brings new perspectives and diversity that make products and offerings more compelling and successful.
- A research report by Accenture and Girls Who Code argues that by having computing classes and a support system in place tailored specifically to girls in junior high and continuing through college, the number of women in computing jobs could grow from 24% to 39% and generate $299 billion in cumulative earnings.
- Firms with a higher proportion of women in their boards tend to invest more in innovation and be more innovative. For example, a recent study found that a 10% increase in female representation in boards was associated with a 7% increase in innovation patents and citations. 
- A study by the Hay Group found that women have proven key advantages in soft skills such as professionalism, networking, collaboration, written and oral communication, and critical thinking – and that women outperform men in 11 of 12 key emotional intelligence competencies. 
- Previous studies by BCG and other organizations show that a more balanced share of women, especially in senior positions, boosts innovation, resilience, and financial performance, among other benefits. Additionally, we have found that women in finance functions are more likely than men to have multidisciplinary backgrounds, potentially enhancing their abilities to lead enterprise-wide transformations. 
We Can Change the Narrative
By creating opportunities for women in STEM, our industry will reap significant rewards – but it will be up to all of us to create that environment, men and women alike. Starting the conversation is only the first step. To be successful, we will require women leaders to continue to break barriers, encourage the next generation, lead by example, and know their worth.
A few things to share with those that are teaching, hiring or mentoring women as they climb their educational or career ladders:
Be aware of bias. Regardless of perceptions, statistics show that the gender wage gap and lack of opportunities for many women as opposed to their male colleagues are real problems that must be dealt with. Men and women alike should be aware of these realities and champion opportunities to overcome them, especially in areas of pay, promotion, and evaluation.
Take action. Here are proactive steps you can take to change the narrative:
- Create or support mentoring and sponsoring programs – Both are important, but there is a difference in objectives between mentors and sponsors. Be clear on the difference and find individuals in your network that can help you with both.
- Leverage educational programs to boost confidence – Advocate for corporate sponsorship at all levels of education, encouraging girls to learn STEM skills and provide positive feedback as they learn.
- Take risks in school or work projects – New research suggests women may not be any more risk-averse than men, but women may encounter more backlash and negative consequences than men when taking risks at work. There is work to be done on both sides for women to be empowered to speak up, and for management to allow fast failures.
- Find work/life balance – Women will always struggle to find the delicate balance between work and home, but making this a priority in an organization will be beneficial for recruiting and culture.
These actions are just the start of addressing a major challenge. The next generation needs to be bold and have the conviction that they are able to make huge impacts in what is, as of today, a very male-dominated industry desperate for new faces, voices, and ideas.
Join us on March 8th for a conversation with five female Aera Technology leaders working in AI/ML about their career journeys, next steps, and sage advice that will accelerate success.
 National Science Foundation, NSF's NCSES releases report on diversity trends in STEM workforce and education
 World Economic Forum, STEM gender equality can support a sustainable economy
 Society for Women’s Health Research, The Importance of Engaging and Supporting Women in STEM
 Forbes, The Business Case For Women In Leadership