She’s been called the first computer programmer for describing how codes could be used in conjunction with Charles Babbage’s analytical engine, but for over a century, Ada Lovelace was nearly forgotten. Even now, opinions about her contributions are mixed.
“Interest in Lovelace grew in the 1980s and 1990s when historians Allan G. Bromley, and then Doran Swade, began to dig further into Babbage’s work,” writes Erin Carson at CNET. “Two schools of thought emerged. One held Lovelace as a brilliant visionary of computing; the other saw her as an insignificant figure.”
Of course, that’s nothing unusual when it comes to women in STEM. In the days of Grace Hopper, software development was considered women’s work … and was paid accordingly. Only when men began edging out women in programming jobs did pay increase.
As of 2009, women held 48 percent of all jobs in the U.S., but only 24 percent of STEM jobs, according to Census data. The reasons for the gap include a culture of sexism in the industry, stereotypes that enforce ideas about male and female work, and girls’ reluctance to pursue courses of study in which students’ best work sometimes earns lower grades. But we can change all that, starting today — Ada Lovelace Day.
- Encourage girls and young women to pursue learning, not grades.
Research shows that girls are more easily put off by bad grades than boys, which means that they may be less likely to stick to STEM fields that dole out A-grades more sparingly than other disciplines.
“Maybe women just don’t want to get things wrong,” economics professor Claudia Goldin told The Washington Post. “They don’t want to walk around being a B-minus student in something. They want to find something they can be an A student in. They want something where the professor will pat them on the back and say ‘You’re doing so well!’”
You can help fix the leaky STEM pipeline by encouraging your daughter to try things, even when she doesn’t get them the first time. We often praise our sons for being adventurous and being willing to get dirty, and our daughters for being tidy and fitting the mold. Changing that pattern could have lasting positive effects for women’s careers.
- Use your power for good.
If you have a little pull at your organization, considering asking for a salary equity review to ensure that women and minorities are being paid appropriately for their skills and experience.
This can be too risky for younger or less senior employees, warns Anne Krook, author of “Now What Do I Say?”: Practical Workplace Advice for Younger Women, but if done carefully, it can make a big difference.
“It’s also worthwhile to point out that especially for women and racial minorities $0.77 and less on the dollar is a persistent, long-standing, nationwide problem, so in bringing it up you are not pointing out anything unique to your organization but a legitimate nationwide concern,” Krook says. “This is the huge advantage of the current conversation about unconscious bias — it’s not that anyone intentionally has racist/misogynist/anti-Muslim/homophobic/other awful attitudes, though of course they may, but that even well-intentioned people do. When it’s a matter of human cognition, it’s possible to remove the element of blame.”
- Call out cultural stereotypes when you see them.
According to the White House’s fact sheet on STEM depiction opportunities, “in family films, men outpace women 5 to 1, and when it comes to portrayals of computer scientists and engineers, men outpace women 14.25 to 1 in family films and 5.4 to 1 in primetime.”
Unless you’re a Hollywood producer, you probably can’t do much to change that today, but you can do two things to help: vote with your dollars, supporting entertainment that provides positive role models of women in STEM, and point out negative stereotypes — or the complete absence of women with STEM jobs in film — when you see them.
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