Women played a key role in developing computer technology and are important to the future of fintech and digital banking and finance.
According to the BBC, the word computer’ comes from the Latin ‘putare’ which means both to think and to prune. By 1731, the word had come to mean someone who did calculations.
Ada Lovelace – the poet Lord Byron’s daughter – wrote the world’s first machine algorithm for an early computing machine that existed only on paper. She’s widely attributed with having invented computer science.
Later in the 19th century, at Harvard College Observatory in the USA, a large group of workers were employed to analyse images of stars and compare their positions. They were women and – because they were brilliant mathematicians –were called ‘computers’. Their pioneering work continued into the 20th Century.
Taking a leaf out of Harvard’s book, in the 1930s, NASA began hiring women as computers. When war broke out, NASA expanded its computer pool, recruiting many college-educated African American women.
Tech women in post-war Britain
In post-war Britain, IBM UK measured the time it took to manufacture a computer in ‘girl hours’, because the people making computers were nearly all women.
At the time, the British government – the biggest computer employer in the land – declined to give women equal pay as computer work was considered low value.
Then perceptions changed.
By the 1960s, it was clear computers would become essential. This meant they required managers to decide how they were programmed and managers in those days were men.
Female computer programmers
But that wasn’t the end of women in tech.
In 1962, computer programmer Stephanie Shirley struck out on her own and set up the software company, Freelance Programmers. One of her clients would be Ann Moffatt from the team that programmed the iconic supersonic aeroplane, Concorde. Ann eventually became technical director at Concorde in charge of over 300 home-based female programmers.
As technology advanced, nerds and geeks became cool. However, despite the early key roles for women, the stereotype was distinctly male and so was the US tech heartland, Silicon Valley.
What led to this shift in the landscape is a much longer debate than this piece allows. Perhaps it was the lack of visible role models, or part of the wider problem of girls being less likely to choose maths and science at school. Whatever it was, the reality was that fewer women saw a future for themselves in tech.
One thing we know for sure though, it wasn’t – as one Google employee once suggested – anything to do with differences in the brain.
And in some parts of the world – such as India and South America – women play a much bigger role in IT, than in Europe and North America.
Tech can give you a great future
In banking and finance technology is changing the way we do things. There’s increasing demand for new talent to help innovate.
Banks and financial services organisations are looking for talented professionals who already have the skills they need – or who they can train.
This represents a new wave of opportunity and potentially gives a whole new meaning to ‘women who count’.
To support women in tech, for each cohort of our Certified Fintech Practitioner course we offer five scholarships to women with our partners, Fintech Diversity Radar.
To apply please email your CV and a short statement (max 1,000 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your statement should describe how the programme would support your career and/or personal goals. We will also be keen to hear about what you do, or plan to do, personally to encourage and support other women in accessing and progressing careers in the fintech sector or wider financial services industry.
More about Certified Fintech Practitioner on the Centre for Digital Banking and Finance