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Women’s History Month: Celebrating Women’s IT Achievements

By Dr. Kristin Drexler
Faculty Member, School of STEM

with Sydney Hoben
Undergraduate Student, Information Technology

Every year, the month of March is celebrated as Women’s History Month. This month is dedicated to “commemorating and encouraging the study, observance, and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.” 

We specifically acknowledge the major contributions of women in information technology. According to National Security Technologies (NSTEC), information and communication technologies (ICT) are an “integral part of every aspect of daily life.” ICT affects how we communicate daily, how we find information and conduct business, how government departments interact, and how we manage our social lives.

Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic first appeared in 2020, we have been using information technology more than ever before. Our workplace is evolving – we’re working from home, attending online classes to increase our skills, and using Zoom for business meetings and conferences.

The Number of Women Employees in the IT Industry Has Grown

Over the years, we have seen growth in the number of women employed within the information and communication technology industry. In 2022, a survey conducted by Deloitte Insights shows that the employment of women in the ICT workforce has reached 25% and is growing. A 2019 Stack Overflow survey shows 11% of software developers are women, and there has been a steady 1% increase of women in the ICT industry per year.

“Big tech” companies, such as Apple, Google, and Salesforce have implemented aggressive recruiting campaigns aiming to employ, retain, and promote women. For tech to continue its growth trend, companies like Google know they must provide learning platforms for future employees from every walk of life and allow for diverse perspectives to take root and flourish within their organizations.

Related link: Steps for Making a True Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Why Are There Still So Few Women in Information Technology?

Despite some growth in the last few years, there are still roadblocks and barriers for women in ICT that must be dismantled. A long-lasting gender bias and a non-inclusive culture has traditionally prevented women from moving into IT leadership positions.

According to Forbes, 22% of female tech employees said they had plans to leave their jobs and the industry completely because of the lack of promotions and opportunity. Also, women face more challenges managing their work-life balance, as they often have more responsibilities and obligations at home.

In addition, women often do not apply for jobs unless they feel thoroughly qualified for the job. That practice limits their employment opportunities, particularly for more senior or leadership roles.

We Should Encourage More Women and Girls to Be Tech Leaders

In the TED talk “Teach girls bravery, not perfection,” founder of “Girls Who Code” Reshma Saujani speaks about the need to socialize young girls to take risks and learn to program to create innovations and solve real-world problems. “We cannot leave behind half of our population,” Saujani says; rather, we need to encourage girls and women to show their imperfections and take risks.

More women in technology increases diversity in the workplace, and diversity generates more revenue. With more women in the ICT industry, especially in leadership, we’ll see improvements in the industry.

Related link: The Legacy of Colin Powell: 13 Important Leadership Rules

Margaret Hamilton: A Pioneer in Software Development

Many women have shaped the history of information technology. One particularly outstanding example is NASA’s Margaret Hamilton, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

In the 1960s, Hamilton was an abstract math student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Smithsonian Magazine notes that Hamilton heard an announcement that MIT was “looking for people to do programming to send man to the moon” and thought, “Wow, I’ve got to go there.”

Hamilton was the founder of software engineering. She led the NASA software team by writing the program that allowed the Apollo 11 mission to safely land on the Moon in 1969. Her software was able to detect and resolve an astronaut error during the mission. Specifically, the astronauts had set the rendezvous radar hardware switch incorrectly. Hamilton’s software informed the crew they needed to correct for this error.

Apollo 11 was a success because the software that Margaret Hamilton and her team of 100 fellow engineers created was impeccable. Due to her leadership in software engineering, she initiated a giant leap for the future of women in technology.

Talking with an IT Student about the Future of Women in STEM

People like Margaret Hamilton have been a continual inspiration to current student Sydney Hoben. Sydney is currently working on earning a bachelor’s degree in information technology at the University.

Dr. Drexler: Sydney, what is it about Margaret Hamilton’s story that inspires you the most?

Sydney: Her tenacity to be relevant and accomplish her mission. In her quote when she finds out about MIT’s programming opportunity, her first thought was, “Wow, I’ve got to go there.”

It was important to her. She went regardless of her qualifications, baseline knowledge or any doubts that she may have had.

Dr. Drexler: Why do you think she’s been an unsung hero all these years?

Sydney: I think, as a people, we tend to focus on the result or endgame of a mission or project. The landing of Apollo 11 is a moment that made history. Margaret Hamilton was a key player in making that happen, but she was also in the background.

Dr. Drexler: How has her story influenced your path?

Sydney: It has dared me to strive for more. I’m making a complete career switch at 30 years old. It would have been immensely easier to stay where I was and continue down that path.

I had come up with every reason to stay where I was, such as stability, continuity and comfort. Women like Margaret Hamilton make history because they do something different.

Dr. Drexler: Why are there so few women in software development or information technology in general?

Sydney: It’s still a new field; science of any kind is male-dominated now. Tech is a competitive industry and while you and I know that diversity in a workplace is beneficial, change is often associated with risk.

It takes a shift in values and beliefs. I think we are seeing a lot of that shift now.

Dr. Drexler: What are your next steps for your future? What career field are you hoping to enter?

Sydney:  First, I am going to graduate in August. While I do that, I am also aiming for a software engineer position and my goal is to push open as many doors as possible. The beauty of tech is that you must constantly be learning and keep honing your skills, whatever direction they may take you.

Dr. Drexler: What long-term lessons has Margaret Hamilton taught us? 

Sydney: Hamilton taught us that persistence pays off, putting yourself out there pays off and we as women have something important to offer the world. Regardless of the stigma or stereotype that society has given you, we have what it takes to be great, even if you are a strong-minded woman, a working mother, an employee returning to the workforce, an entry-level worker, a mid-career employee, an introvert or an extrovert.

Last but certainly not least, get out of your comfort zone. Getting out of my comfort zone is how I was able to meet you through Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math [wSTEM] and the Association for Women in Science [AWIS].

Dr. Drexler: Tell me more about your involvement in wSTEM and AWIS. What excites you the most about those organizations?

Sydney: Their sheer existence makes me excited! There is something so empowering about women supporting other women. I am currently the Secretary for the University’s wSTEM and AWIS chapters, and it has been extremely rewarding.

I’m new to STEM and have never been more encouraged and supported than I am because of these organizations. Membership in these organizations helped me to connect with others while attending an online school.

These organizations have also provided me with incredible resources, job fairs and networking opportunities that I would have never thought possible. It is an honor to be a member of both of them.

Information Technology Programs and STEM Organizations at the University

The University has several academic programs relating to information technology. These programs include undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificates in:

  • Information systems security
  • Information technology
  • Information technology management
  • Data science

If you are interested in learning more about women’s history and the important contributions women have made to STEM, please consider joining one of these student organizations:

About the Authors

Dr. Kristin Drexler is a full-time faculty member in the Space and Earth Studies Programs. She teaches geography, environmental science, earth system history, and conservation of natural resources for the School of STEM. She earned her Ph.D. in educational leadership at New Mexico State University by researching socioecological systems, sustainable agroecology and community education. Dr. Drexler earned the Undergraduate Excellence in Teaching Award for the School of STEM (2020) and the Dr. Wallace E. Boston Leadership Award (2021). Drexler produced an award-winning short film,“Yochi,” in 2017 about youth conservation and action against poaching and illegal wildlife trade. In the late 1990s, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Belize. She co-founded and serves on the board of directors of Full Basket Belize, a U.S. nonprofit that provides high school scholarships and community grants in Belize. Kristin serves as a faculty advisor for the university’s wSTEM and AWIS chapters. She also founded the “Science Talks with Dr. Drexler and Friends” lesson series for primary school (2020-21).

Sydney Hoben is a bachelor of science in information technology and programming student at American Military University, due to graduate in August of 2022. She is a 12-year United States Army Veteran who recently made the decision to move into the IT industry and software engineering. Sydney currently works for Re4ormed, a veteran resource that supports veterans, military spouses, and elite athletes on their journey to starting a business after service. She is currently serving as the Secretary of the wSTEM and AWIS chapters at the University.

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