Celebrated annually on the second Tuesday of October, Ada Lovelace Day recognizes the women who have made significant contributions to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) throughout history.
Today, technology underpins virtually every aspect of modern life, and women are not just participating in the industry but revolutionizing it. From Ghana to Silicon Valley, women drive progress in their fields and beyond. From advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) to reinventing healthcare, optimizing transportation systems, and expanding access to education, their impacts affirm Lovelace’s legacy.
Ada’s vision for technology
Almost two centuries ago, Ada Lovelace, daughter of English poet Lord Byron, wrote what’s considered to be the first computer program, pioneering computer science before technology as we know it even existed. During this time, she translated an Italian mathematician’s article on Charles Babbage’s proposed Analytical Engine machine, along with writing her own additions to better explain the concept. In her notes, she theorized that the machine could do more than simple calculations. It might compose complex music, create graphical designs, and manipulate symbols by following rules. In a sense, she predicted modern computing capabilities––ideas that echo today’s AI innovations.
“It might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations…Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”1
Her notes reveal how wise she was about technology’s untapped versatility, and historians often note that her vision propelled the computer age.
At a glance: There’s more work to be done
Present-day data about women in STEM industries is somewhat inconsistent and outdated, but there are a few statistics that tell one side of the story.
- Women earn half of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees (50%) and associate degrees (49%). They represent about one-third of the STEM workforce (35%), and their wages are consistently lower than men’s.2
- Women account for only about 28% of engineering graduates and 40% of graduates in computer science and informatics, according to the 2021 UNESCO Science Report.3
- One in four C-Suite leaders is a woman, and only 20% are women of color.4
- In technology and engineering roles, 32% of women are often the only women in the room at work.5
- Companies with all female-founding teams raised about $800 million, or 2.1%, out of the estimated $37 billion invested in U.S. startups in Q1 2023. In dollar terms, that is a 53% year-over-year decline from the $1.7 billion all-female founding teams raised in Q1 2022.6
Leading ladies: Standouts in technology
The figures above may paint a daunting picture, but they don’t capture the entire story. Women are not only thriving in STEM and tech, they are leading transformative projects and guiding the next generation of innovators. Here are just a few examples:
- Susan Wojcicki, former CEO of YouTube, pioneered the video advertising that became core to Google’s success. She now serves in an advisory role to Google and Google-parent Alphabet. Wojcicki’s vision elevated online video into a transformational medium.
- Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code to increase women’s participation in computer science. Her organization has reached 300,000 girls in all 50 states and globally, inspiring a new generation of female programmers.
- Fei-Fei Li, computer science professor and former head of AI at Google, has published groundbreaking research in machine learning. She co-founded AI4ALL to increase diversity and ethics in AI.
The power of perspective: Does gender diversity in the workplace truly impact innovation?
Research shows adding women to a team can drive businesses to be more profitable and socially responsible, provide safer, higher-quality customer experiences, and deliver a strategic advantage.
- A strong relationship exists between diversity on leadership teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance for companies: the most gender-diverse companies are 48% more likely to outperform the least gender-diverse companies.7
- Gender-balanced teams are found to be more novel and impactful in their outcomes.8
- Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile—up from 21% in 2017 and 15% in 2014.9
Ada’s legacy: Pioneering progress
Ada Lovelace was a tech trailblazer, and female innovators worldwide are following in her footsteps. While women strive for greater inclusion, here are a few ways to continue to continue supporting them:
- Encourage girls to enter STEM programs
- Advocate for workplace diversity
- Encourage female mentorships
- Offer developmental opportunities
By promoting inclusion at all levels, executive teams, boards, and managers can foster a workplace culture that reflects the diverse tapestry of society, drives innovation, enhances employee engagement, and strengthens a competitive edge.
- Scientific Memoirs. Translated by Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1809-1896). Volume 3. London: Richard and John E. Taylor, 1843
- Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities, 2023
- UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Women in Science, 2021
- LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace, 2022
- Q1 2023 PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor Data
- Diversity wins: How inclusion matters, May 19, 2020
- Brian Uzzi, Gender-diverse teams produce more novel and higher-impact scientific ideas, August 29, 2022