On the 8th October, I will celebrate the eleventh annual Ada Lovelace Day which recognises the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
Since its inception in 2009, the STEM sectors have evolved immensely and I have seen first-hand the speed of technological change, which is accelerating at a faster rate than ever.
There is also a greater number of female CEOs, like myself, working in the technology sector, with several making huge contributions from Silicon Valley to Silicon Glen. Yet, women appear vastly underrepresented within the ‘core’ job roles, making up only 22% of last year’s STEM workforce in the UK.
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Ada Lovelace is widely credited as the first computer programmer for the role she played in the development of the analytical engine. Much like the more recent example of Bill Gates and Paul Allen, who had no idea if their programme would work until they tested it in front of a potential buyer, Lovelace designed a programme for a machine which had only been described to her.
Unfortunately, her programme was never run as the machine it was built for was never produced. Lovelace was undoubtedly an outstanding mathematician of her time, thanks in part to the opportunities she was offered, which were denied to most women of the 19th Century.
Encouragingly, more than 200 years later, according to the Office of National Statistics, there are more than 900,000 women with core STEM occupations in the UK. This figure increased year-on-year between 2011 and 2018 and is expected to continue through 2019 and 2020. However, the amount of women working in STEM positions is still 1% lower than that of men.
And, while in the US we have seen more women lead successful technology companies, this is echoed in the UK with the likes of Sharon White, CEO at Ofcom, and Anne Boden, CEO and founder of Starling Bank, rising to the top of their organisations.
I am hopeful that these figures will emerge as role models in the same light as their male counterparts, such as James Dyson and the aforementioned Bill Gates, who have become household names in STEM sectors. Female role models will be influential in encouraging young women to pursue careers within STEM subjects, which is why I will be embracing this year’s Ada Lovelace Day.
Technology is moving at such a pace we can’t recruit quickly enough, with core STEM employment increasing by 6.3% between 2017 and 2018 – more than six times than the UK’s overall employment rate. It has been estimated that 85% of the jobs of 2030 haven’t been created yet, which will certainly lead to new opportunities, whether you are male or female.
Having digital skills to tackle technology that doesn’t yet exist could give Scotland a significant head-start in preparing for the future. We just need to encourage younger women into thinking it is a viable path for them to take. We need to ensure young women are given the same support to move into technology as much as they are encouraged to study law or medicine.
It is now more important than ever to highlight the key female figures who appear to be flying under the radar to give them figures to look up to and aspire to be. By celebrating Ada Lovelace and other notable females in STEM fields, we can inspire a new generation and create a more diverse workforce which will serve the tech industry well in coming years.