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Celebrating women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM)

Posted 3 years ago in Xero news by Ruth James
Posted by Ruth James

The second Tuesday in October is Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). The aim is to increase the profile of women in STEM, and in doing so, create new role models who will encourage more girls into STEM careers and support women already working in STEM. 

Who is Ada Lovelace?

When we think of the trailblazers in technology, people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos all come to mind. When it comes to women in technology, those pioneering and game changing women have been hidden from view. 

The first person to ever write a computer program was a woman, Ada Lovelace. Born in 1815, to poet Lord Byron and his wife Lady Byron. Ada was privately educated unlike many women at this time. She excelled in mathematics and described her approach as poetical science and herself as an analyst and metaphysician.

At the age of seventeen she was introduced to Charles Babbage, a famous inventor of the day. Babbage was working on creating an analytical engine – a mechanical general-purpose computer. Up until this point ‘computers’ didn’t exist, there were mechanical calculating machines, only able to do one function at a time. Ada understood that future ‘computers’ could go beyond just doing calculations. While working with Charles Babbage, Ada wrote the first intended algorithm for the analytical engine, making her the first person to write a computer program.

A short history of women in tech

Like Ada, a lot of the women who contributed to the development of technology and the advancement of computers have been forgotten along the way. In the early days of computers, women were heavily involved with programming software. Hardware was often seen as more superior and considered ‘men’s work’. 

During the Second World War, women were increasingly employed to work on calculations for ballistics trajectories and complex differential equations. Using the newly developed electrical computers at the time, like the Harvard Mark 1, Colossus, and ENIAC, they programmed these machines to run their calculations. As this new technology grew to become more advanced, the number of women studying computer science also increased, peaking around the early 1980s.

It was around this time that the image of the computer scientist became distinctly male. Films like Weird Science and Wargames help create the stereotype of the male computer hacker and social outcast computer nerd. At the same time, the majority of computer advertising was aimed at the male market. It’s no wonder the representation of women in technology fields started to drop dramatically. 

Why we need more women in STEM

In the 2015 McKinsey report, Diversity Matters, they found that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially. Not only does it make business sense to have a diverse workforce, but it’s also the right thing to do. At Xero, we recognise our customers are widely diverse, therefore we need our workforce to represent this too. Having an equal representation of women in technology means we have a greater diversity of thought. Leading to a richer perspective for solving problems and challenges using technology.

In our last financial report, we published our gender diversity numbers:

42% of Xero employees are women 

50% of our Xero leadership team are women

43% of our Xero board are women 

Our technology teams are 30% female, so we still have room for improvement.

Increasing the pipeline

As my good friend Alix Klingenberg says, “There’s no point in fixing a pipeline if it leads to a sewer.” She makes an incredibly important point that if we don’t have diversity and inclusion in the industry, how can we legitimately promote a diverse pipeline of talent into the sector. At Xero, we actively support diversity and inclusion, you can read about our D&I key principles here and some of the initiatives we have implemented and supported. 

Ada Lovelace Day reminds us to keep increasing the profiles of women in STEM. This helps to create new role models who will encourage more girls into STEM careers and support women already working in STEM. There are a number of opportunities for young women to explore opportunities in tech. We encourage you to share these resources with young women in your network.

Role models

A few months ago TechWomen.NZ started the TechWomen Series showcasing women in Aotearoa who work in tech. It captures a number of short interviews with a wide range of women talking about how they got into tech. They also talk about their passion, challenges and why more girls and women should also give tech a go. There is also a fantastic series of interviews and short talks from women who use code to change the world on Made with Code.

FREE Online resources

Hour of code – Give coding a go! Hour of code is a great entry level experience for everyone ages 4 – 104! It offers one hour tutorials in over 45 languages. 

Khan Academy is expert-created content and resource for every course and level. They have a whole section dedicated to computing.

Scratch is a free programming language and online community where you can create your own interactive stories, games and animations – great for school aged kids, with ScratchJr for younger ones (ages 5 – 7). 

Code Studio offers introductory courses that empowers students to engage with computer science as a medium for creativity, communication, problem solving, and fun!

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