Why don’t we know the names of these female ‘superheroes of science’?
Women played a hugely important role in the development of computers and space tech.
But female tech pioneers did not get the recognition they deserved and few are remembered.
The part that women played in the development of modern technology has been so underplayed that many pioneers were never given the credit they deserved for work that contributed to everything from Wi-Fi and email to computer games and space travel.
There is a drive to get recognition for all the other female tech pioneers in the hope that it will get more young women today to choose careers in science and technology, fields which are still male-dominated.
Now, to mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, we’re paying tributes to the unsung female ‘superheroes of science’.
Its hoped girls and women draw inspiration from heroes like Ada Lovelace – the daughter of poet Lord Byron – who was a 19th-century mathematician whose work on algorithms was used in the earliest pre-electronic computing machines. Because of this she is now referred to as the first “computer programmer”.
She was a renowned mathematician whose mother ensured her tutors taught her science and maths to stop Ada developing her estranged father’s ‘unpredictable’ traits. She was born in 1815 and died at the age of 37.
In one famous instance, the public was told computer pioneers were just pretty faces brought in for the cameras.
Six women did crucial coding work on ENIAC, the first electronic general-purpose computer, which was developed during the Second World War.
Their work was not recognised for 50 years and when they were photographed for publicity shots at work they were referred to as the ‘refrigerator girls’ after women who modelled household appliances.
The women’s’ names were Jean Bartik, Frances Spence, Kay McNulty, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzer and Ruth Lichterman.
One of the most famous stories of forgotten females was told in the 2016 movie Hidden Figures, which focused on three ‘human computers’ called Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan and Katherine Johnson who worked at Nasa during the space race.
Multi-talented women have also made waves throughout history.
When she was not making Hollywood movies in the 1940s and 50s, silver screen actress Hedy Lamarr was an inventor whose work in STEM contributed to the creation of Wi-Fi.
Computer coding is one of the most in-demand skills across many industries and an increasing number of businesses now rely on sophisticated computer programming.
Women are still very under-represented in coding, as they are in all science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers. In 2014, just 22% of STEM graduates from UK universities were women.
Vodafone has now launched an initiative to give free computer coding training to schoolgirls in 26 countries.
The training will be given to teenage girls irrespective of their previous technology skills.
In partnership with Code First: Girls, the training will provide basic knowledge of computer languages and development programs including HTML, CSS, GitHub and Bootstrap, enabling the students to develop a website by the end of the one-week course.
In 2017, the UNESCO, the UN’s cultural and scientific agency, expressed concerns that ‘female participation is falling in a field that is expanding globally’. While only 22% of UK graduates in science, mathematics and computing were women, the percentage was even lower in Germany (19.3%), France (21.5%) and Switzerland (14.7%). In the United States, women make up around a quarter of those in STEM occupations.
Tanja Richter, Vodafone’s Director of consumer products and services in Technology, said: ‘In 2014, only around 22% of UK graduates in science, mathematics and computing were women. The gap was wider in other countries. STEM fields also have fewer women on boards than any other sectors.’
The courses are being run in schools in 26 countries in the UK, Europe, India, the Middle East, South Africa and Australasia.