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Women in Tech: International Women’s Day 2019

"I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves." – Mary Wollstonecraft

In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft stirred controversy in her native England when she published A Vindication on the Rights of Women. In the text, she argued that education should be accessibly to everyone regardless of gender, which is today an intrinsic right for all humans.

However far we’ve come, March 8th is always a good opportunity to take a step back and assess what we’ve done so far and are doing to promote equality.

This year’s International Women’s Day calls for a #BalanceforBetter, for a reevaluation of our modern society. Equality depends on seeking solutions for both genders, on reaching the point where gender is of no consequence for educational and professional matters.

In recent years, the noble cause of gender equality has been diluted in divisive rhetoric. #BalanceForBetter calls for a rebranding of the movement, one that will bring it back to its roots: equal rights, equal opportunities.

Many argue that society has a turned a new leaf since the days of Mary Wollstonecraft, which is true in some ways. For instance, female migrant workers closed the remittance gender gap a little over a year ago. Yet, out of all Fortune 500 companies, only 24 have female CEOs.

The pioneers, the trendsetters, the road pavers

On this International Women’s Day, we want to focus on our accomplishments as a society, especially those of women in tech who have played a part in advancing us into the digital age. The women who made today’s more inclusive professional landscape possible.

Ada Lovelace (1815–1852), a gifted mathematician, was the key contributor for the development of a machine called the analytical engine, considered the first modern computer and invented by Charles Babbage, Lovelace’s friend. The plans drafted for this machine revealed computing possibilities are still in use today. Every second Tuesday of October, the work of all women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are commemorated in her name.

Grace Hopper (1906–1992), a United States Navy admiral and computer scientist, became one of the first programmers for the Harvard Mark I, a type of computer used in World War II. In 1944, she created a 500-page manual on the principles of computing machines. She even invented a “compiler,” otherwise known as a program capable of translating English instructions into the target computer’s language. This invention has had an extensive ripple effect, from code optimization to formula translation.

Katherine Johnson (1918) is a mathematician hailing from West Virginia who played a pivotal role in several of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s missions during the Space Race. One of three black students chosen for integration into West Virginia’s graduate schools, she authored and co-authored 26 research reports during her career, many of which were used to develop space shuttles. In 1962, Johnson ran orbital calculations by hand to validate automated results for John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission, which was a success.

Funke Opeke (1960) returned to her native Nigeria after having worked 20 years in U.S. telecoms. Following her stint as Verizon exectuvie, Opeke joined Nigeria’s public telecoms company NITEL, raised $240 million and installed 4,400 miles of fiber optic cable from Nigeria to Portugal. Thanks to Opeke, the country gained access to online baking, booking services and more. Today, Nigeria’s economic boom is often credited to her.

Where do we go from here?

As the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day states, we must strive for balance as a society.

Historically, both men and women’s career decisions have been influenced by gender norms and societal expectations.

As we move forward, and digitalization opens doors for more of us to choose our paths, it’s important to continue encouraging integration, especially for those who have been excluded from one industry or another.

For instance, what happens when women are encouraged to go into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields from a young age? UNESCO reported that 29% of scientific researchers in the world are women. However, in Russia, where young girls are encouraged to go into STEM careers, the national average is at 41%.

At Ria, there’s no gender quota to fill. Instead, we focus on hiring professionals with no regard for their gender, race or religion. The result has been a truly diverse and equal workforce.

Our job as a society is to ensure the number of people who have access to education and support grows every day.

So, we must ask ourselves: am I doing enough to encourage balance in my community?

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