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Women have played a key role in technology from the first computer program in the 1800s to C-level leadership positions today. How will outsourcing and offshoring affect their roles in the future?
Women’s contributions to technology are often taken for granted, merely rolled up as part of the great tidal wave of innovation surrounding the Computer Age. Women’s Herstory (also spelled “her story”), celebrated each year in March, gives us the opportunity to take a look at significant contributions of women to technology and business, and also to examine the potential impact outsourcing and offshoring might have on women in the technology sector.
To help recognize Women’s Herstory month, below is a sample of women who have contributed to technology and computers. There are many examples, so please feel free to add comments about other notable women who impacted technology.
Ada Lovelace (Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace) (1815-1852): credited as the first computer programmer, she created a mathematical program to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.
Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910): known as the first woman physician. She founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children and the Women’s Medical College.
Grace Hopper (1906-1992): an extremely gifted computer scientist. Early in her career she worked for the Navy on the Mark I Calculator, the first large-scale automatic digital computer. She worked on validation software for Cobol and its compiler. She also focused on standards for testing computers systems, which lead to compatibility among computer vendors.
Hedy Lamarr (1913-2000): actress turned inventor, she was influential in coinventing an early form of spread spectrum, a technology used for military purposes to help make radio-guided torpedoes more difficult to block or jam. More recently, spread spectrum has served the basis for CDMA devices such as cordless telephones and WiFi Internet connections.
Sandra “Sandy” Lerner (1955- ): helped design the first router and cofounded Cisco Systems.
Women Leadership Summits
Each year there are a series of leadership summits designed to gather women in the business community. Events are designed to bring women together to exchange ideas, network and discuss the impact women will play in emerging business settings.
Similar women’s leadership conferences are also held at the academic level, including at: University of Michigan, University of Texas at Austin, University of California at Berkley and Bryant University. CIO had an opportunity to discuss trends of female students in additional detail with Bryant University’s Computer Information System’s department.
Outsourcing and Offshoring Leading to Convergence
Bryant University professor Dr. Kenneth Sousa observed in the early 1990s classrooms that were heavily dominated by men. “In the early 1990s, the classroom was dominated by males. A systems analysis class might have about two female students,” says Sousa. “Then something happened in the late 1990s and the classes were about 25 percent female.” These upward trends have not lasted through to present day.
Dr. Sousa noticed the enrollment drop off began around the same time outsourcing and offshoring began to accelerate. To meet the demands of a changing global economy, Bryant University created a project management course. The enrollment of females in technology classes has not restored itself to the late 1990s level, however Sousa is confident women will be taking critical technology positions due to the convergence of multiple specialties and skill sets.
What does this mean for the future involvement of women in technology?
The marketing side of technology and services has the potential to become increasingly important in the future. To connect innovative technologies with consumer uses, women will be naturally positioned to be project managers on technology ventures because of experience in other departments and disciplines. According to Sousa, “The convergence of marketing and innovative technology will result in women being on the front line reengineering how companies deliver products and services. Women will be able to leverage their experiences and skills in other departments to integrate technology and improve product and service offerings.”
As technology companies examine their staffing needs they will find there is still a desire for game rooms onsite, but an additional benefit will likely gain momentum in the area of flex time and telecommuting. Typically in child situations, women have a decision to make: Stay at home or place the child in daycare. If more companies examine their HR policies to leverage telecommuting and VPN network access to stay-at-home mothers, what will the future impact be to that company’s product and service offering?
In 2000 CIO published Why Women Hate IT. At the time, college students of today would have been in either junior high school or elementary school. The Generation Y college students of today have been raised to pursue a work-life balance. What impact will Generation Y females have toward technology positions? What will the impact be of Generation X females converging into technical positions? How will mothers returning to the workforce impact technology organizations?