Today more and more people start to follow the data that show us the countless benefits of hiring more women. Interestingly though, Information Technology fields seem to be uninterested in this information. In the field that has become known as a “boys club”, women hold only 25 percent of the programming jobs. But it wasn’t always like this.
In fact, the first ever piece of programming was written by a woman, Ada Lovelace. After Charles Babbage invented a forerunner to a modern computer, Lovelace realized that the machine could be programmed to run previously dictated series of actions and wrote what is accepted to be the first piece of code.
In 1943, when an all-male team of researchers began building the first general-purpose computer Eniac at the University of Pennsylvania, the job to write computer programs was left to women once again. The six women the team had hired to write codes for Eniac, were essentially the ones who invented the field of computer programming.
At the time, men had not recognized the potential in programming yet. They considered it to be glorified clerical work and were more interested in building the machines. So the “uninspiring” job was left to women. One of the founders of Eniac later recalled; “We didn’t think we should spend our time worrying about figuring out programming methods, there would be time enough to worry about those things later.”
Unlike the popular understanding now that programming is a man’s work, (We are looking at you James Damore.) the managers then used to believe that women were uniquely qualified for the work. According to Datamation, a computer magazine, managers in 1963 believed that “women have greater patience than men and are better at details, two prerequisites for the allegedly successful programmer”.
Even magazines like Cosmopolitan were enthusiastic about the field. They encouraged their readers to choose programming as a career in 1968, declaring it a field where “sex discrimination in hiring” didn’t happen.
However with time, men started to realize the potential in programming. The first generation of male programmers were men from different scientific fields. They wanted to elevate programming to a science and they effectively excluded women from the field. According to historian Nathan Ensmenger’s observations, “computer programming was gradually and deliberately transformed into a high-status, scientific, and masculine discipline”.
By the mid-1960, programming became the boys club that it is today, also as a result of professional societies such as the Association for Computing Machinery that deliberately tried to keep women out by creating advanced degree requirements.
In 1969, IBM ran a commercial for potential programmers with one question; “Are YOU the man to command electronic giants?”
The original of the article was written by Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, (c) 2017 Bloomberg LP