Ada Lovelace Day: Time to change the ratio once and for all

13 Oct 2015

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, in recognition of the woman widely recognised as the world's first computer programmer

Silicon Republic CEO, and Inspirefest founder, Ann O’Dea, talked to BBC’s Business Daily about diversity in tech and why changing the ratio is critical to effective product development.

So, here we are two centuries on from the birth of Ada Lovelace, widely recognised as the first ‘computer programmer’. Don’t know about Lovelace? You could do worse than listen back to the podcast of today’s Business Daily on BBC World Service, where tech presenter Zoe Kleinman spoke to the founder of Ada Lovelace Day, and to yours truly, about the barriers still remaining for women in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) industries.

In a wide-ranging programme, Kleinman talked to Isis Anchalee, the woman behind the #ILookLikeanEngineer movement, who will be speaking at Inspirefest in Dublin in 2016, as well as to inspiring young software engineers in Nepal and Mumbai.

Homogeneous product design

It’s men — the majority of whom are white, straight and middle class – that make up more than three-quarters of the workforce in the world of tech, and that figure increases significantly when it comes to technical and executive positions. This means that products are being designed, and business strategies being decided, by an extremely homogenous group of people in the STEM areas.

Why does this matter? Just look at a traditionally male-dominated environment like the car manufacturing industry. The first crash test dummy came into use in 1949, yet it was not until 2011 that the federal authorities in the US insisted that crash test dummies designed to mimic the very different female physiology be used for testing. The impact of a crash on the male and female body varies quite significantly, so this was quite some oversight when it came to more than half the population!

There may be no malice involved, but this is what happens when you do not have a diverse group of people designing products for a diverse population.

Of course, this is not about gender alone, but about diversity in general. Today, the majority of the technologies and internet-based products we use are, again, being designed by a limited demographic. It simply just does not make sense. It is time we all worked together to ensure we change the ratio in tech to ensure a world designed for, and by, everyone. How? Have a listen to today’s show for some ideas.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Join us again from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity. Buy your Ultra Early Bird tickets now!

Photo of people working at the Ada Lovelace Day Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at Brown in 2013 via Weinstock

Ann O’Dea is the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Republic and the founder of Future Human