Ada Lovelace Day: Shaping a More Inclusive Future in Tech
Ada Lovelace Day is an international celebration acknowledging the achievements of women in STEM all around the world. The event was founded in 2009 due to a concern that women in the tech industry were invisible and has since aimed towards encouraging women and girls to pursue careers in STEM.
The inspiration for Ada Lovelace Day also stemmed from research carried out by psychologist Penelope Lockwood, which found that women needed to see female role models more than men needed to see male role models.
But instead of just highlighting the achievements and impact of just one, or a few privileged women in the industry, it's important to continue to make conscious and sustained effort to showcase a broader spectrum of women's successes in STEM if we are to make our computing role models representative and relatable.
To do this, we must not shy away from the equity gap in the technology industry when celebrating women in computing and exploring how we can fight the trends of under representation and discrimination. Today, women make up around half of the UK workforce, yet in the tech industry, a mere 24% of roles are filled by women, and over 77% of tech leaders are men (Tech UK, 2023).
Dame Stephanie "Steve" Shirley's journey serves as a compelling illustration of a woman in recent history who has made significant contributions to increasing the participation of women from diverse backgrounds in STEM industries.
Shirley was a child refugee who came to England at the age of five without her parents. Aged just 26, Shirley went on to found her very own software company that redefined the work pattern for women during the 1950's. It was during this time that she adopted the name “Steve” to help her overcome challenges posed by the male-dominated industry that she operated in. It’s suggested that by signing off with this name in her written communications she was engaged with more frequently, and thus gained greater exposure to professional opportunities.
Whilst this might sound like an issue of the past, gender-based discrimination and under representation still exist within the tech industry, and especially so for women from ethnic minority backgrounds.
While we might hope that gender-based discrimination and under representation are issues of the past, they persist in the tech industry, particularly affecting women from ethnic minority backgrounds. The theme of this year's Black History Month, 'Saluting our Sisters,' acknowledges black women whose contributions have been overlooked, ideas appropriated, and voices silenced. This theme extends to the tech sector, where a recent study revealed that black women constitute only 0.7% of the technology workforce, despite comprising 1.8% of the UK's total workforce (BCS, 2022). Structural changes are crucial in eliminating barriers for black women and girls pursuing success in the industry. However, honouring the achievements and voices of these underrepresented groups must remain a priority.
Whilst Ada Lovelace Day serves as a crucial reminder that it is vital to celebrate the excellent work women have accomplished in computing over the past two centuries, we must also continue to celebrate women from all backgrounds to overcome the systemic barriers that hinder their entry and success in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
How can you make a difference?
Check out our I Belong: Encouraging girls into computer science programme, through which we aim to minimise the gender gap in young people taking up computing at GCSE level and beyond. The Computing Ambassadors volunteers are also a perfect way of introducing role models into a classroom and creating meaningful connections between the subjects of computing and computer science and the industry.
Let us know how you’re honouring Ada Lovelace Day this year by tagging @WeAreComputing on X and using the hashtag #AdaLovelaceDay.