12 Women Pioneering and Evolving Technology

by | Mar 29, 2023 | Business

It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in the tech field. Though the U.S. workforce is 46.6% women, this doesn’t reflect in STEM due to historical barriers to entry, the current gender pay gap, pandemic layoffs, and other forms of active gender bias. Women have 28% of the U.S. computing and mathematical jobs as of 2022 and account for 25% of the software engineering jobs and 15% of engineering jobs. Less than half the women in these positions are non-white, with 7% of jobs held by Asian or Pacific Islander women, 3% by Black women, and 2% by Latina or Hispanic women.

Pioneering Women in Tech

In the face of these obstacles, women have had to work even harder to make their contributions to the tech world known. Throughout history, many women have worked from tech’s inception up to the present day. Though changing the tech industry will take time, the least we can do this Women’s History Month is recognize a handful of the tech industry’s brightest minds.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace was born in 1815 and was raised and homeschooled by Lady Byron. In 1843, she published her notes on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, which was the first designed general-use computing machine. Though never created, Lovelace’s notes on Babbage’s creation explained how the engine could turn calculation into computation. Babbage created the first computer programs, working with Lovelace. She then interpreted his work and wrote about the significance and potential of the device.

Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper was born in 1906 and became a pioneer in computer science. In 1943, she joined the Navy Reserve. In 1949, she began developing what would become the Common Business-Oriented Language, or COBOL, the first high-level programming compiler which allowed computers to respond to words rather than numbers or symbols. It took her three years to get her idea of a compiler accepted.

Hopper retired from the Naval Reserve in 1966 but was recalled to standardize the computer language used by the navy. She finally retired in 1986 at the age of 79.

Hedy Lamarr

Born in 1914, Hedy Lamarr was both a well-known actress and a self-taught inventor with no formal training. Working with another inventor and composer, George Antheil, she created the secret communication system, which allowed torpedoes to be radio-guided but remain undetectable by listening to that specific radio frequency. Lamarr was awarded a patent for the system in August of 1942. This spread spectrum, or frequency hopping system, would later inspire the technology behind wi-fi, GPS, and Bluetooth.

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson was born in 1918 and worked for NASA as a mathematician and computer scientist during the space race. Her work, including her complex calculations, was essential in the mission to send the first American into space and the moon landing. It was Johnson’s responsibility to run the flight’s programmed numbers by hand, ensuring the safety of the astronauts along their flight paths.

Annie Easley

Born in 1933, Annie Easley was a mathematician, computer scientist, and rocket scientist. Easley applied to work in 1955 with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Once hired, she was one of four black employees. She began work as a human computer for researchers.

As technology evolved, she developed her computational skills in programming. She used computer languages to support many NASA projects and developed and implemented the code necessary to research systems for energy conversion and alternative power sources. This research included battery power sources, which were vital in the Centaur rocket project. This project enabled future space travel and launches. These batteries are the same as the ones used to develop hybrid cars.

Adele Goldberg

Adele Goldberg was born in 1945. She was a researcher at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and was essential in the developmental team that built the Smalltalk-80 programming language. This language was used to create the Graphics User Interface (GUI), which allowed windows to overlap on display, and the modern designs for icons, menus, and pointers. Goldberg presented the Smalltalk-80 GUI system to Steve Jobs at his insistence, which inspired the first Apple computer.

Dr. Anita Borg

Born in 1949, Anita Borg was a computer scientist who advocated for women in the tech field. In 1994, Dr. Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney co-founded the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), made in honor of Hopper’s legacy and creating a computer science conference for women. This is today one of the largest gatherings of women in tech. Borg founded the Institute for Women and Technology in 1997, which was renamed the Anita Borg Institute after her passing in 2003. The goal of the organization was to increase diversity in the tech field and enable women to shape the future of technology.

Radia Perlman

Radia Perlman, born in 1951, invented the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), which was part of the fundamental building blocks of today’s internet. This turned the internet from a single wire system to enabling it to handle large networks, bridging technology, and data organization. Though other computer scientists have expanded on the technology since Perlman created it, her groundbreaking innovation allows us the fast-speed internet we enjoy now.

Kimberly Bryant

Kimberly Bryant is an engineer born in 1967 who worked for decades in the biotech industry. In 2011, Bryant founded the nonprofit Black Girls CODE with the goal of allowing young girls of color to access and learn about STEM topics and in-demand skills. Black Girls CODE began as an organization based solely in San Francisco and, under Bryant’s direction, expanded to 16 chapters in the U.S. and one chapter in South Africa.

Ellen Pao

Born in 1970, Ellen Pao was the head of business development and strategic partnership for Reddit in 2013 and became interim CEO in 2014. Under her direction, Reddit banned the use of revenge porn on the website. Several other social media sites followed similar models shortly after. In 2016, she co-founded Project Interlude after resigning from Reddit. Project Interlude was founded by women in tech with the goal of improving diversity and preventing sexism in Silicon Valley and tech companies.

Reshma Saujani

Born in 1975, Reshma Saujani is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. This nonprofit organization’s goal is to increase gender diversity in the tech industry and address the gender pay gap in tech. Saujani is an attorney and activist who wrote Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World, which addresses the fundamental ideas of her organization.

Dr. Fei Fei Li

Dr. Fei Fei Li was born in 1976, is Stanford’s Human-Centered AI Institute Co-Director, and is a tenured professor at Stanford. She also worked at Stanford’s AI Lab as the Director, was the Vice President of Google, and was the Chief Scientist of AI and machine learning at Google Cloud. Dr. Li created ImageNet, a large image database that is used to develop and train AI to understand what makes up an image.

Li also co-founded AI4ALL in 2017, a nonprofit organization with the goal of improving diversity in AI and machine learning research. AI4ALL has partnered with Black Girls CODE and Girls Who Code, among others.

How to Find Recognition

The obstacles against women in the tech field shouldn’t exist, and women shouldn’t have to overcome these challenges simply to be heard and recognized. Unfortunately, it will take serious time and impactful change for these systems and fields to become more diverse and more welcoming to anyone capable.

Reaching a wider audience can help some businesses and organizations get the recognition they need. If you’re looking for a way to speak your piece against similar obstacles, but haven’t found the right words, reach out to our experienced writing team.

Jane Replogle

Jane Replogle

Jane Replogle graduated from Northern Michigan University in 2022 with a BS in English Writing and a minor in Art and Design. She lived most of her life in Michigan and is currently based in Oregon as a freelance copywriter. She enjoys many creative art forms, including fiction writing, poetry, sketching, and painting.