Women in STEM and the legacy of Ada Lovelace
STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – has long been a male-dominated sector. Historically, men and women have been steered to focus on different career paths, leaving a gap for female scientists and engineers – which, finally, is set to be increasingly filled.
More and more, programs tailor made for women aiming to enter the industry are being created, and multinational software corporation Autodesk has been vocal about supporting this. This year, on Ada Lovelace Day (which falls on the second Tuesday in October), Autodesk released a dedication to Lovelace which also highlighted the work it is doing to support women in STEM.
Ada Lovelace was an English analyst and metaphysician who is hailed as the founder of scientific computing. She was born in 1815, the product of a brief marriage between Romantic poet Lord Byron and Anna Isabelle Milbanke. Lady Byron raised Lovelace to be tutored in mathematics and science as a stark contrast to the creative leanings of her father (despite him having no influence over Lovelace, as she never knew him). In 1828, at just 13 years old, Lovelace created a design for a flying machine.
Unsurprisingly, ladies engaging in scholarly pursuits was not generally encouraged at this time, but Lovelace moved in elite circles with gentlemen of science, and was easily intellectual and charming enough to become friends with those at a similar academic level. Lovelace famously formed a lifelong connection with Charles Babbage, a Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, beginning when she was only 17. While the term ‘scientist’ had not yet been invented, Babbage and Lovelace certainly fit the bill, and the two of them began frenzied communications on all subjects of science, math, and logic.
Lovelace’s lasting fame stems from the translation and accompanying notes of a memoir, written by Luigi Menebrea, on Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Lovelace wrote her article between 1842 and 1843, outlining her easy understanding of Babbage’s machine, and her view of it as a computer. The notes contain the outlines of software, including an algorithm – the first of its kind – tailored for use on a computer, but this program has never been tested. They also hint at the concept of computer-generated music, and describe the Analytical Engine as a device for “developping [sic] and tabulating any function whatever… the engine [is] the material expression of any indefinite function of any degree of generality and complexity.”
This incredible scientific foresight is why we continue to celebrate Lovelace and her heavy influence today. Ada Lovelace Day has only been recognized since 2009, but its creation ensured that her legacy was rightly resurrected. Now, the day involves international events led by female industry experts, allowing and encouraging all women either in STEM or considering a career in STEM to become involved.
Tessa Colledge is an engineering software programmer at Autodesk, and is dedicated to actively involving more women in STEM, visiting schools and universities to educate on the subject from the female perspective. While she is aware that improvement in this area will continue to be a slow process, Colledge is confident that with enough time and investment in training programs, the gap between men and women in STEM will shrink as women are further encouraged to be a part of the industry.
“It’s important to recognize the contribution women bring to engineering on days like Ada Lovelace Day,” she says, “but we have a long way to go when it comes to championing female role models. In my work as a STEM ambassador with Autodesk, I see the value in exposing young women to careers once deemed only suitable for boys.
“Having that personal connection with another female (like me) gives young women the self-belief that they can discover a career path in STEM. If you have an interest in engineering, I’d urge you to cherish the skills that you want to apply – whether this is math or problem-solving skills. Don’t give up on finding the career where you can use these skills – it’s out there somewhere. Take risks, put yourself out there and explore the unknown.”
Amy Bunszel, VP if Digital Engineering Products at Autodesk, spoke this year at Catalyst Conference 2016 – an annual celebration of women in technology – and is as passionate as Colledge about encouraging women to become a part of the STEM sector.
“We know that we need more women at the table,” she says, “on teams and in the boardroom, and we must work at both retaining women already in STEM fields and getting more young women interested in STEM. This is why celebrating days like Ada Lovelace Day and promoting the accomplishments of women in STEAM is crucial. My advice for women in STEM is to ask for stretch assignments that align well with their technical and leadership skills, and to look around their organizations for women they can bring along with them.”
Bunszel believes that the most essential resource for women hoping to enter the world of STEM is the women who are already part of that world, and that these people have a responsibility to aid in the cause towards changing minds and influencing the industry.
“And for those of us who have already made a successful career in STEM, it is important to offer coaching, mentoring, sponsorship, and advice,” she says. “In return for helping others you’ll also build up a strong network of support and your own sounding board. I leverage my connections to benefit others and enjoy connecting people with opportunities. For me, being a role model to women in STEM extends beyond my formal responsibility at Autodesk to participating on panels across the Bay Area, having coffee meetings to offer advice and encouragement and speaking at career fairs and sponsoring programs like Girls Who Code. Keeping the spotlight on the topic is crucial.”
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.