Tech is a notoriously male-dominated field. According to a recent Statista survey, as of 2021, more than 90% of software developers identified as male and less than 6% as female. But don’t let these discouraging statistics fool you. Despite being underrepresented in STEM careers, women have made some massive contributions to technology over the years.
For Women’s History Month, we wanted to highlight some of these influential women and show how their contributions to the world changed things for themselves, those who came after them, and society at large.
Annie Easley, 1933-2011
Computer scientists, mathematicians and rocket scientists
Annie Easley worked for the Lewis Research Center (now referred to as the Glenn Research Center). She also worked with NASA and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which existed before NASA. One of Easley’s most notable achievements was her work on the Centaur project, which helped make future space travel possible.
Her work contributed to the Cassini probe in 1997, and she also worked to help other African Americans register to vote. In fact, she’s been into battery-powered vehicles for a long time, even before companies like Tesla and Rivian were household names.
Ada Lovelace, 1815-1852
Donaldson Collections/Getty Images
Creator of the first computer algorithm
Ada Lovelace shaped the world in the mid-19th century, at a time when not only was it highly unusual for women to study STEM subjects, but computers as we know them today didn’t even exist.
Lovelace was fascinated by the brain and other disciplines of science and technology. In 1833 she met a man named Charles Babbage who had developed an early calculating machine called the Analytical Engine. Lovelace translated one of Babbage’s lectures into English and added notes. In her notes, she included an algorithm that enabled Babbage’s machine to compute Bernoulli numbers, and as it turned out, this was the first time a computer algorithm had been published.
Because of her published algorithm, Lovelace is often credited as the first female computer programmer.
Hedy Lamarr, 1914-2000
The mother of WiFi
When some people think of Hedy Lamarr, they often just think of a beautiful actress. But there is so much more to Lamarr than meets the eye. Hedy, along with another inventor (named George Antheil), developed a radio-based torpedo guidance system that was immune to jamming. At first, few people took the actress seriously, and her patent eventually expired without being used in the real world. However, Lamarr and Antheil’s technology was later used in many of our essential technologies today, including Wi-Fi and GPS.
In 2014, Lamarr and Antheil were inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame.
Reshma Saujani, 1975-present
Founder of Girls Who Code
Girls Who Code is an organization dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion in tech. The organization has helped nearly half a million girls and reached 500 million people since its inception.
Reshma Saujani is the founder of Girls Who Code, but she is also an activist and advocate working to close the gender pay gap. With all the young women Reshma has helped, she totally deserves a spot on our list of the most influential women in tech.
Susan Wojcicki, 1968-present
Former YouTube CEO
Since it launched in 2005, YouTube has fundamentally changed the way we consume content online. It has enabled ordinary people to become stars, influencers, and helpful tutors for everything from relationship advice to cosmetic tips.
Susan Wojcicki was previously a senior vice president at Google and one of the company’s earliest employees, but the Harvard graduate eventually became YouTube’s CEO in 2014. She is an inspiration to young women around the world based on her hard work, persistence and success in the tech industry.
Radia Perlman, 1951-present
Creator of the spanning tree protocol
Radia Perlman attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Few women took part in these STEM programs during that time, so it’s quite impressive that she’s managed to make a name for herself.
Perlman’s work had a significant impact on the technology field – specifically how networks move data and organize themselves. Their most notable creation is the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP): a set of network design rules that helped improve the Internet. Others have expanded on the technology since Perlman invented it, but it was their creation that paved the way for the modern, ultra-fast networks we enjoy today.
Karen Sparck Jones, 1935-2007
University of Cambridge
Karen Sparck-Jones was a self-taught computer programmer at a time when there were very few female programmers in the field. Her most notable contributions have focused on inverse document frequency and index term weighting—two major concepts that helped develop the modern search engines we have today.
Every time you search Google for a recipe, ask Google for the best Thai restaurant, or search for which robot vacuum you should buy, Sparck-Jones’ work helps ensure the search results that are returned are helpful.