The First Women in Tech Didn’t Leave

From the Wall Street Journal. Read the FULL ARTICLE here

 A programmer, Andrina Wood, at the console of a British Tabulating Machine Co., or BTM, computer in 1958. PHOTO: MIT PRESS

A programmer, Andrina Wood, at the console of a British Tabulating Machine Co., or BTM, computer in 1958. PHOTO: MIT PRESS

Sexism in the tech industry is as old as the tech industry itself.

Memos from the U.K.’s government archives reveal that, in 1959, an unnamed British female computer programmer was given an assignment to train two men. The memos said the woman had “a good brain and a special flair” for working with computers. Nevertheless, a year later the men became her managers. Since she was a different class of government worker, she had no chance of ever rising to their pay grade.

Today, in the U.S., about a quarter of computing and mathematics jobs are held by women, and that proportion has been declining over the past 20 years. The situation is generally worse at the biggest tech companies: Only one in five engineers at Google or Facebook is a woman, according to the companies’ recent diversity reports. A string of recent events—from women coming forward about sexism, harassment and discrimination in the industry, to the controversy over a memo written by a Google employee arguing that women overall are biologically less suited to programming—suggest the steps currently being taken by tech firms to address these issues are inadequate.

A growing army of women and members of other underrepresented minorities are working on solutions to these issues. The history of computing, in the U.K. in particular, backs up one of their central conclusions—that simply educating more women and other minorities to be engineers won’t solve the problem. Read more