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Women in tech: Broken rung constrains progress

By Shannon Williams
Tue 5 Jan 2021
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Despite IT spending worldwide projected to total $3.8 trillion in 2021, only 26% of computing-related jobs are held by women. Laura Tyrell, head of PR at NordVPN, says this shows women are misrepresented in a field where the potential to grow and advance in one's career is one of the highest.

"Girls are being held off STEM following stereotypes according to which thats not something women do," says Tyrell.

"Gladly, there are numerous examples around the world that prove the opposite. We need to talk more about such women to inspire the rest to break through the stereotypes in order to give a shot at STEM and pursue tech careers," she explains.

Women who made history 

Behind the first general-purpose computer called the ENIAC there were six female programmers: Jean Bartik, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum, Kay McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Frances Spence, and Frances Elizabeth "Betty" Holberton.

Despite their groundbreaking work, the Army never released the names of the women who worked on the ENIAC, and they were largely forgotten until Kathy Kleiman discovered their story in 1985.

Search engines as we know them today were built on the concept of inverse document frequency, which was developed back in 1972 by Karen Sprck Jones, a professor at Cambridge Computer Laboratory.

The Spanning Tree Protocol enabled the development of modern networking. And it was an invention made by Radia Perlman. She is often called "the Mother of the Internet".

Women who are shaping the world of tech from the front seat today

Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive of NHS Digital. Under her supervision, big changes in the use of technology have been adopted to fight the pandemic. While the majority of the work her team does is for the clinicians on the NHS front line, during this period they have also been able to speed up making data accessible in a way that it wasn't before. 

Edel Owen, head of Core Banking & Open Banking Architecture at Barclays. She heads up a team of 40 architects defining the technical strategy and roadmaps to achieve the bank's strategy. She joined Barclays on their IT Graduate Programme and has been climbing up the corporate ladder ever since. 

Lauren Kisser, director at Amazon Web Services. She leads a team of top-notch engineers. Kisser studied Public Relations, but soon realised she needed more digital skills. So she took night classes in information systems and computer networking and landed a job as an IT technician. Prior to joining AWS S3, she was the director for Amazon Prime Air. 

Cindy Rose, CEO Microsoft UK. Prior to joining Microsoft, Cindy was Managing Director of Vodafone UK's Consumer business. In March 2019, Cindy was recognised in the New Years Honours List, where she was awarded an OBE for services to UK technology. In June 2019, Rose was selected by then Prime Minister Theresa May to co-lead a study into digital competitiveness of the UK. 

Chantelle Bell and Anya Roy, co-founders of Syrona Women. Both have studied Bioscience at Cambridge University and developed a pregnancy test-like device that allows women to test themselves for cervical cancer at home. Syrona has won awards from bodies like AccelerateHER Scotland, Tata, and Bethnal Green Ventures.

A broken rung

While a recent study by McKinsey & Company shows signs that the glass ceiling is cracking, the progress is constrained by a broken rung, Tyrell says.

"According to statistics, women face the biggest challenges at the first step up to a manager. For every 100 men promoted and hired to a managerial position there are only 72 women. This means that more and more women get stuck at the entry level, while men advance to managers," she says.

Tyrell says the inspiring examples help to combat misconceptions about tech and encourage women to be more determined in their pursuit of a career. 

"Corporations reluctant to be more inclusive simply push themselves to the outskirts of talent acquisition and development."

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