Women have long been underrepresented in the tech industry. In fact, women currently account for only 28.8% of workers in the field. Furthermore, a study found that only 22% of students can name a famous female working in technology, while 66% can identify a renowned male. However, women have made significant, innovative contributions to the technology field that changed what is possible and forced society to consider the how and why of technology’s use cases. Continue reading to discover three women trailblazers in tech and how they transformed the field.
As the first woman to earn a doctorate in the United States for computer science, Barbara Liskov is no stranger to knocking down barriers. When she first started as a professor at MIT in the 1970s, Barbara oversaw the team that created CLU. CLU was the first programming language to use data abstraction, a method Barbara invented that replaced “goto” statements. Goto statements were popular at the time but made programs complicated and unreliable. CLU has since influenced some of the predominant programming languages still used today, including Java, C+ +, and C#.
Throughout her career, Barbara made sure to bring other women along for the journey. She did so by hiring women faculty while she was the head of computer science at MIT in the early 2000s. Later on, Barbara became the second woman ever to win the Turing Award, one of the highest honors in science and engineers. She received the award for pioneering the fundamentals of computer science. So the next time you search a query on Google or check your email, you can thank Barbara.
In the realm of artificial intelligence, women make up 12% of artificial intelligence (AI) researchers globally. Joy Buolamwini is one of the leading women studying AI. Referred to as “the conscience of the AI revolution” by Fortune Magazine, Joy’s studies focus on identifying biases in facial recognition software. As a woman and a person of color, Joy noticed that the technology had difficulty recognizing her when she worked with facial recognition software. This led her towards researching the technology to see if this was indeed a widescale problem. Joy’s findings revealed that racial and gender prejudices are present in facial recognition systems, even ones created at the most advanced tech companies.
In response to her research, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft postponed their AI services in 2020. These companies were selling their services that were then used in a number of high-stakes scenarios, including law enforcement and human resources. Before her research, companies and scientists would claim that since artificial intelligence and algorithms aren’t people, they couldn’t be discriminatory. However, because of Joy’s research, companies are forced to reassess their technology to identify and remove any biases they contain.
To further tackle AI’s biases, Joy founded the non-profit Algorithmic Justice League. The organization focuses on raising awareness about the impacts of AI and transforming AI into equitable and accountable technology.
Nonny de la Peña
Dubbed “The Godmother of Virtual Reality” by The Guardian, Nonny de la Peña’s career has always been rooted in journalism. Her career pivoted in 2012 at the Sundance Film Festival with the release of her project “Hunger in Los Angeles.” The virtual reality project transports participants to a food bank line in LA when suddenly a man in line falls over due to low blood sugar. Inspired by a true story, the project became one of the most talked-about pieces at the show because of its innovative and impactful storytelling that shed light on one of LA’s significant problems, food insecurity.
After the release of “Hunger in Los Angeles,” Nonny continued pursuing that storytelling style, named immersive journalism, which she is largely credited with inventing. Her company, Emblematic, is composed of filmmakers, journalists, designers, and video game designers who create immersive experiences for users to explore, learn, and interact in an engaging manner. So, whether that means recreating an event in history, illuminating the issues of today, or creating a fantasy world, the power of immersive storytelling is exceptionally compelling as it helps individuals better understand scenarios they otherwise would not have experienced.
Despite being vastly underrepresented in the field, women have contributed significant and numerous breakthroughs that have been vital to technological advancements. As technology becomes more accessible and the outdated gender stigmas loosen, women will undoubtedly continue to create innovations and discover critical findings that will propel the field forward.
Is there a woman in tech that you want to highlight or bring attention to? Tell us in the comments below who they are and what they have contributed to the field!