Monday, March 16, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day Pledge – Women in Science & Technology

Sign my pledge at PledgeBank

“My being a woman had absolutely no bearing on what I chose to do with my life. What is this hoopla about women and science? It must be getting difficult for women to do science these days. We had no such problems in our time".
Professor Anna Mani, pioneering female Indian scientist - meteorologist. (1918-2001) From here.

Suw Charman-Anderson is on a commendable mission, and, as pledged, here is my blog to mark Ada Lovelace Day, a special moment in International Women’s Month 2009 remembering women in science and technology.

Turing, eponym of the text-based conversational measure for machine intelligence (Turing test or imitation game), invoked Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace, credited as the first programmer, in his 1950 tract ‘computing machinery and intelligence’ – the Lady Lovelace objection. However, that no machines had any “pretensions to originate anything” and only “do whatever we know how to order it to perform” showed a limitation of human knowledge and technological advancement at her time of writing.

The Ada Lovelace Day pledge seeks, as I understand it, to raise awareness of women in science. But while a cornucopia of male scientists exists to choose from, and I have been very fortunate to be taken seriously by male scientists (Dr. Hugh Loebner, Professor Kevin Warwick), a paucity of women adorn this essential pursuit to opportunity and prosperity for any nation. Female role models I don’t have, or rather, I am my own, however, there’s deep respect for science heroines of the past and present, but who are they? Apart from Nobel Prize winners Marie Curie and Dorothy Hodgkin, and the two female winners of the prestigious ACM Turing award, in 2008 Barbara Liskov, and in 2006, the first female winner of this award, Francis Allen, I couldn’t say.

Why are there so few women in science and technology and who were the earliest female scientists – a little research across the Internet revealed a woman whose birth name remains elusive but who lived more than two thousand years before Christ: En-hedu-Ana. Daughter of the ruler who joined Sumer and Akkad into the Sargonian Dynasty of Babylon, he initiated the tradition of installing a daughter as a High Priestess. Though Akkadian like her father, she lived in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, now Southern Iraq. Her powerful position as priestess enabled her to name new rulers to the city. The disciplines of astronomy and mathematics were created and controlled by the priest and priestesses of the cities and she was involved in creating several observatories to view the stars and the moon, and thus creating maps of celestial body movements. Even today, Easter and Passover are celebrated in some religions according to the first ever religious calendar she helped to create.

Links for information on En-hedu-Ana:


En-hedu-Ana, a female who lived more than 4000 years ago, is the first recorded woman of technology. Why aren’t there more En-hedu-Anas?

In 2002, the Royal Institution’s director and a leading brain researcher Baroness Susan Greenfield said “Britain's scientific establishment is guilty of institutionalised sexism”. From here.

Seems we’re no further, this from last year:

“While women have broken through the glass ceiling in many industries, female scientists still find it hard to reach the top. According to a recent UNESCO report, women account for only 27 per cent of researchers worldwide. Women are still critically underrepresented in science professions, making up only 19 per cent of the UK's total science, engineering and technology workforce. Within the upper levels of science, women constitute an even greater minority, holding just 6 per cent of professorships. No wonder then, when asked to name five famous female scientists, most people would struggle to get beyond Marie Curie. That's not surprising given that of the 521 Nobel prizes for science and medicine awarded between 1903 and 2007, only 12 were awarded to women: 7 in medicine, 3 in chemistry (Marie Curie, her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie and Dorothy Hodgkin) and 2 in physics (Marie Curie and Marie Goeppert-Mayer).”

From here.

Importance of female education:

"Hard statistical evaluations fairly consistently find that female education is the variable most highly correlated with improvements in social indicators. The benefits of education have a multiplier effect because they empower women to bring about other necessary changes."
Investing in All the People, Policy Research Working Paper Series #905, World Bank


“Although female participation in higher education has increased globally over the last decade, it remains low in most advanced-degree programs, especially in science and engineering”.

Statistics on the number of female researchers across regions*:

• Latin America and the Caribbean: 46% of researchers are women, exceeding the world’s average;
• South Asia: women constitute only 12% of researchers (10% in India);
• Southeast Asia: 42% of researchers are women, well above the global average;
• Europe: 32% of researchers are women, with only five countries reaching gender parity, all in Eastern Europe;
• Africa: an estimated 29% of researchers are women.

Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics


“The United Nations Development Program 2001 Human Development Report emphasized that a brain drain from developing countries was costing those countries* billions of dollars. In addition, a 2007 OECD report said that because of their key social and economic contributions, when tertiary-educated women emigrate it has a much more significant negative impact on the country than when tertiary-educated men emigrate. This is not the case at lower educational levels, where no significant impact or gender differences were identified.”


“Among those women who dare to pursue the scientific adventure, many decide to change direction after several years of study or professional practice. The main reasons are unequal opportunities in studies and career between men and women; an insufficient number of female role models to encourage female students; lack of financial backing necessary to continuing specialized studies or research work; and an absence of media projection of the role women scientists and engineers could play.”

From the Schlumberger Foundation.

Links to other articles:

Japanese science needs its women more than ever. Why doesn't it treat them accordingly?

Female scientists face discrimination in China

Vietnamese female scientists’ contributions encouraged

Book on Indian women scientists:

This pledge, with a very brief journey through the history of women in science and technology sees an extraordinary woman, En-hedu-Ana, whose accomplishments included poetry and philosophy. Let us not seek elsewhere for strength, let us build it with the confidence and passion we have for our science, and do it for oppressed women around the world, those robbed of the opportunity to engage in the august fun of science-making. She may have lived over 4000 years ago but En-hedu-Ana remains a beacon for women today; these are her words:

The true woman who possesses exceeding wisdom,

She consults [employs] a tablet of lapis lazuli

She gives advice to all lands...

She measures off the heavens,

She places the measuring-cords on the earth.


S Howard said...

There are a number of technical women from 2000-4000 years ago. See the book
The Hidden Giants
available on Amazon
written by Sethanne Howard

Huma Shah said...

Thank you. I've just checked on Amazon, both editions are currently in stock :-)

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