FullSTEM Ahead

Celebrating Trailblazers in STEM on International Women's Days

The world's first computer programmer was a woman

Annually, on International Women’s Day, we celebrate women’s significant contributions worldwide and shine a light on their pivotal roles in shaping our future, particularly in fields where they’ve historically been underrepresented. This year, we spotlight Ada Lovelace, a visionary in the truest sense, born centuries ahead of her time, long before the term “STEM” was even coined.


Beyond numbers – envisioning technologies' potential

Lovelace’s prowess in the field of mathematics became apparent during her collaboration with Charles Babbage, the inventor of the Difference Engine – a mechanical calculator capable of performing complex mathematical computations and widely accepted as the precursor to the modern computer. While Babbage focused on the machine’s physical construction, Lovelace grasped its potential, recognising its capacity to process numbers, manipulate symbols, and even compose music. In her notes, she outlined a method for the Engine to perform calculations based on a set of instructions, a groundbreaking concept that is now recognised as the first computer programme. This audacious vision, written in the mid-1800s, prophetically outlined the versatility of modern computers by over a century.

While her work went unnoticed during her lifetime, Lovelace was recognised as the world’s first computer programmer long after her death. The delayed recognition of her contributions highlights the critical need to address the persistent gender disparities in STEM fields and insufficient acknowledgement of women’s innovation in STEM. A study by Dworkin et al. (2020) reveals gender biases in academic citations. By analysing over 1.5 million research papers across various domains, including physics, mathematics, and computer science, the study uncovered that 83% of male authors showed a bias for citing works by other men. In comparison, female authors practised near-equitable citation, with only 0.9% preference for citing other women’s work.

Further research of nearly 5.5 million scientific papers has found that, according to current trends, the proportion of women authoring research will not reach parity with men in some fields for over 100 years. Gender parity in the authorship of scientific papers will be reached in 2069 for biology, 2087 for chemistry, 2144 for engineering and mathematics, and 2158 for physics. The continued struggle for equitable recognition for trailblazers like Lovelace and future generations of women is a challenge we must find an answer to globally.

A glimpse into the future – the seeds of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Some believe Lovelace’s “poetic science” went even further, pointing to her fascination with the emerging field of cybernetics, the study of man-machine systems, speculating that she envisioned a future where machines could also think and feel. This adds a layer of intrigue to her work, suggesting she wasn’t just a brilliant mathematician but a visionary scientist with an almost prophetic understanding of technology’s potential. While her ideas wouldn’t find full expression until the birth of computers a century later, it is undeniable that her work paved the way for the digital revolution that is shaping our world today.  

In today’s world of work, the acceleration of AI adoption in workplaces is marked by a significant 24% increase within the last four months, with 80% of AI tool users reporting notable productivity gains, according to Slack’s Workforce Lab research. Sam Altman’s firing and rehiring as OpenAI’s chief executive also reveals fascinating insights about gender diversity in AI; of the 702 (out of 750) employees who signed the letter demanding Altman’s reinstatement, more than 75% were men. This gender imbalance matches McKinsey’s findings about AI teams in The State of AI in the 2022 report. This drive towards integrating AI into daily operations is undeniable, with 81% of executives recognising the urgency to do so.  Our own Workplace Training Report 2024 reveals that HR leaders will prioritise recruiting technical skills will be 2024 – AI/Machine Learning engineers (61%), cybersecurity (60%), data science (59%), business analysis (56%), and software engineering (56%). 

As we embrace the AI revolution, we must also confront the gender biases within these technologies. Drawing insights from Caroline Criado Perez, who provides eye-opening examples of biases in everyday gender-neutral products and the ramifications of the “one-size-fits-men” approach. For example, in car safety testing, 73% of women are more likely to suffer worse or fatal injuries in car accidents because test dummies are designed for the male body. There is also an absence of gender diversity in clinical trials, often skewed towards male participants, resulting in 90% of women experiencing worse health outcomes. These gender biases permeate society and raise concerns about the lack of female representation in AI development and deployment when data can so powerfully exacerbate gender biases across industries. 

A century from now…

Three key lessons emerge from Ada Lovelace’s remarkable story for future generations in STEM, ensuring that a century from now we aren’t making the same mistakes.

The art of innovation  
Interdisciplinary human and technical skills  
Diversity in STEM  

Hear from Corndel’s trailblazing women in STEM

Corndel is proud to have a staff that is 64% female and feature insights from some of our standout women leaders and professionals in STEM. We’ve invited these accomplished professionals to share their thoughts and experiences which align with Lovelace’s lessons. 

Lisa Harty

What strategies do you recommend for developing interdisciplinary skills, especially for women in STEM looking to broaden their expertise?

Dr. Subeksha Shrestha

In your experience, how have interdisciplinary human and technical skills benefited your work in STEM?

Naseeba Mhearban

What strategies do you recommend for developing interdisciplinary skills, especially for women in STEM looking to broaden their expertise?

Anneka Ariyo

What strategies do you recommend for developing interdisciplinary skills, especially for women in STEM looking to broaden their expertise? 

Nicki Tinson

What emerging area of science, technology, engineering or mathematics excites you the most for its potential?

Sayara Beg

What emerging area of science, technology, engineering or mathematics excites you the most for its potential?

A case study: Organon’s HER Leadership Programme

Closing the gender gap

Organon, a global pharmaceutical company, recognises the importance of gender diversity in leadership and is taking steps to achieve this. Organon partnered with our Custom Solutions team to design and deliver a 12-week leadership development programme over four months, underpinned by Organon’s organisational values and objectives, including inclusivity and authenticity. The HER Leadership Programme focuses on embedding new learning, habits and mindsets that will empower women and men in their roles, contribute to the organisation’s success, and make room for women at the top of leadership.

Carly Churchill, Head of Women’s Health Marketing (UK & ENI Cluster), Organon says: “I found the course transformational, beyond what I expected. I didn’t expect the course to be set up in such a blended way; there is a lot of self-learning through weekly missions complemented by masterclasses, mentoring and coaching. These were all layered on top of two reports, allowing you to lean into those missions and conversations and identify your strengths and areas you would like to focus on.”

FullSTEM ahead

This year’s International Women’s Day coexists with a significant surge of technology in the workplace. As we reflect on Ada Lovelace’s contributions, the rise of AI, and the lack of female recognition in STEM fields, we must double our focus and energy on enhancing female presence in these fields. Alternatively, we risk perpetuating past mistakes and deepening gender biases with AI technology. 

Diversity has been proven time and time again as a driver of innovation and performance. As we look to the future of technology, ensuring a gender-diverse workforce, particularly in AI and data science, is essential. It’s time to move beyond acknowledging the problem to implementing concrete steps towards inclusion. Let this International Women’s Day be an opportunity to revise your organisational strategies to support gender diversity in the workplace, creating space for a new generation of Ada Lovelace’s. 

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