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Resources on Women in STEM (March 2020): Technology

by Janet Ochs, Jennifer Parker, and Jeremy Pekarek

Technology

Computing: A Concise History, by Paul Ceruzzi, offers a fascinating history of computing including comprehensive materials about key individuals such as Charles Babbage, Alan Turing, Thomas Watson, Gordon Moore, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Paige, and Sergei Brin. In various sections of Ceruzzi’s narrative certain women are mentioned, but the actual names of the women are not provided. Only two women, Augusta Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper, are reviewed in detail. 

Conversely, Pioneer Programmer: Jean Jennings Bartik and the Computer That Changed the World offers a detailed first-person account of the first female programmers and their experiences working on the ENIAC, a watershed invention in the history of computing. The ENIAC programmers—including Kathleen McNulty, Frances Snyder, Ruth Lichterman, Frances Bilas, Marlyn Wescoff, and Jean Jennings—were instrumental in operating the ENIAC and contributing to its success. This autobiography, by Jean Jennings Bartik, challenges some of the traditional accounts of ENIAC’s history as Bartik discusses her own view of the events. One goal of the book is to inspire young women to consider STEM careers, and it therefore sheds light on important issues such as the glass ceiling and working in a male-dominated field.

The pivotal role of Grace Hopper in the development of the Mark I computer at Harvard and her contributions to programming languages such as COBOL have been well documented in earlier works. In Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age, Kurt Beyer also focuses intensively on Hopper’s career, crediting her with significant work toward the future advancement of software and the user-friendliness of current machines.

Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet contains numerous portraits of famous women in computer history, featuring several early contributors such as Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, and the ENIAC programmers. Later contributors such as Elizabeth Feinler and Radia Perlman are profiled as well. What sets this book apart is that it provides in-depth descriptions of female pioneers operating the early internet technology, developing databases, creating the ARPANET directory, establishing domain name categories, and designing new network protocols. Author Claire Evans, who contributes to publications such as The Guardian and Wired, and blogs for National Geographic, here describes women participating in the new cyberspace, the dot-com bubble, and computer gaming.

In Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing, Marie Hicks argues that women played a critical role in the development of computing, and investigates gender-based labor discrimination and its role in the rise and fall of Britain’s computer industry. Hicks focuses on the thousands of women who worked in the British computer industry from 1930 to 1979, documenting the decline in numbers of female technology workers and emphasizing the role of the British government in creating a “male-identified ideal for computer work.” This led to a shortage of technology workers and to the demise of the entire computer industry in the UK. In parallel, in Gender Codes: Why Women Are Leaving Computing, editor Thomas Misa documents the historical decline in the numbers of US women employed in computing and compares this to similar data reported for Britain, Germany, Greece, Norway, and other parts of the world.

Female Innovators at Work: Women on Top of Tech illustrates the careers of twenty technologists, including Lynda Weinman, cofounder of Lynda.com, and Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX. Author Danielle Newnhan incorporates a series of informative interviews, highlights outstanding female role models, and provides encouragement to readers interested in computer careers. Similarly, Kristine Blair’s Technofeminist Storiographies: Women, Information Technology, and Cultural Representation is a resource for women in search of technology role models or careers. Blair, herself a role model as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at Youngstown State University in Ohio, presents sketches of important women in computer history, but also includes the stories of more contemporary women such as Carly Fiorina, Marissa Mayer and Meg Whitman. These stories are framed from the perspective of the contemporary technology culture, and thus the book includes welcome references to popular current media and events.

Douglas Branson claims that the technology industry fails to integrate an adequate number of women into management or leadership roles. His book The Future of Tech Is Female: How to Achieve Gender Diversity spotlights technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Oracle, and Google, where the number of women leaders employed is insignificant. The appendix documents many technology companies without female executives.  Branson discusses and analyzes the careers of twelve female technology CEOs, including Carly Fiorina, Ginni Rometty, and Meg Whitman. Notably, he also critiques several current approaches to advancing women toward leadership, such as quota and pledge programs, and suggests a series of solutions to address the gender inequality issue. The book is written for individuals involved in corporate leadership who are concerned about gender equality.

Another title examining gender inequality in tech is Emily Chang’s Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley. Chang’s focus is unique as the book illustrates the specific pitfalls and challenges facing women who work in Silicon Valley companies. Several chapters highlight important milestones in computer history, while others focus on women engineers, venture capitalists, and specific tech companies such as Google and PayPal. Chang concludes the book with her recommendations and supporting examples of how the technology industry might improve and become more inclusive.

Works Cited