Houston, we have Margaret Hamilton! | NTT DATA

Mon, 11 February 2019

Houston, we have Margaret Hamilton!

Margaret Hamilton is considered to be the first ever software engineer. She was born in 1937 and studied Mathematics at Earlham College. In 1960, she began working at MIT’s meteorology department where she taught herself different programming languages.

Today we can say that thanks to the work of women such as Margaret Hamilton astronauts can land on the Moon.

Margaret Hamilton advanced in her career as an engineer. In 1965, she developed the software for the Command Module and Lunar Module for the Apollo, alongside Charles Stark’s team, a program to land humans on the brightest and largest object in our night sky. Four years later, in June of 1969, the Saturn V rocket propelled towards Earth’s Moon with the Lunar Module expected to land a few days after. However, just minutes before moon-landing, its computer failed after receiving different error messages. Neil Armstrong and Edwin Buzz Aldrin, commanders on board the Lunar Module, were to be left with no option but to cancel the mission had it not been for Margaret Hamilton and her team who quickly detected what was wrong and landed the module remotely.

“Women who worked in IT at that time were usually relegated to lower positions. In the case of the Apollo project, my colleagues who were mostly men were also friends and we worked closely together to solve demanding problems under critical deadlines”

(Margaret Hamilton)

Hamilton’s experience, as well as that of other women engineers throughout history, may surprise us because we are not generally aware of what women have contributed towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) despite the work of Margaret Hamilton, Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper and many more. Perhaps not many people realize the percentage of female representation in textbooks, scientific studies and leading investigations.

A study from 2012, carried out by the historian Judit Gutiérrez Sánchez, concludes that women’s maximum presence in textbooks reaches a maximum of 16.3% versus an overwhelming 83.7% of male representation. Also, only 7.6% of these women are actually referred to by name versus 67% of men.

As a result, there is a great gender gap in the digital field. This lack of female representation in the sector can be explained by the scarce number of young women who pursue STEM degrees. The gap is so great that, on this day 4 years ago, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The goal of having this day marked on the calendar is solely to achieve equal access to and participation in science and technology for women and girls.

In 2015, the UN revealed the following: in an investigation carried out in 14 countries, the probability of female students finishing a university degree, masters or doctorate related to science was of 18%, 8% and 2% respectively whereas the probability of men doing so was of 37%, 18% and 6%. These numbers, four years later, have not changed too much.

As a technological firm, we have worked for over a decade in trying to do our part. This is why, since 2008, we have carried out different studies with organizations such as Google,  Fundación Bancaria La Caixa and Fundación Española para la Ciencia y la Tecnología (Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology) to identify the main reasons as to why young women do not choose to enroll in science-related studies. Main conclusions highlight the lack of female representation in the sector and also, among other factors, gender bias that has a huge impact on the decisions female students make when choosing their higher education.

You can see the results of these studies on the #girlsgonna_ website which was launched by everis and Mujeres Tech in 2018. Its mission is to reduce the gender gap in the digital industry. #girlsgonna_ is an initiative which looks to act upon the core of the problem, helping adults become aware of the impact our gender stereotypes have on girls and boys from a young age.

This 11th of February we want to feel capable of doing whatever we set our minds to! #girlsgonna_

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