Spotlight on: Ada Lovelace

It is no secret that within STEM industries in the UK, the gender balance continues to favour men.

The latest statistics from the Wise Campaign confirm that in 2017 women still only make up 23% of those in core STEM occupations in the UK, and 24% of those working in core STEM industries, despite a rise in initiatives encouraging more young women into these areas.

A response to this lack of representation has become increasingly important, as concluded by psychologist Penelope Lockwood, who conducted influential research into why women need to see female role models more than men need to see male role models. She stated that “Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success…demonstrat[ing] that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers,” and as such it is our responsibility to highlight those role models to empower other women.

One such example is Ada Lovelace, a British socialite and the daughter of Lord Byron, the Romantic poet. In 2018, the New York Times published an obituary featuring Lovelace, in response to complaints that their obituary pages had been dominated by white men, and in doing so publically recognised her as a gifted mathematician and the first computer programmer.

“Ada Lovelace therefore continues to represent the achievements of women in STEM inspiring and creating new role models for young and old alike.”

Lovelace was described by one of her biographers, Betty Alexandra Toole, as combining math and logic with imagination and creativity, viewing the discipline as a “poetical science”. After establishing a working relationship with British mathematician Charles Babbage, she was able to assist in his work on the Analytical Engine, and subsequently wrote a program to calculate the seventh Bernoulli number.

However, her lasting influence was to see the potential for the machines to go beyond calculating numbers, and in doing so recognised the future of computing. Despite never actually being built, Lovelace’s published article on the Analytic Engine later became as source of inspiration for Alan Turing’s work on building the first modern computers in the 1940s.

In 2009, to honour her achievements, Suw Charman-Anderson founded the first annual Ada Lovelace Day, with the aim of raising the profile of women in STEM. As an international day of celebration, Ada Lovelace therefore continues to represent the achievements of women in STEM inspiring and creating new role models for young and old alike.

Ella Morton

Featured image courtesy of Gabriel Saldana via Flickr, no changes made to the image. Image license can be found here.

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