This Oct. 20, 2015, file photo, shows a sign outside Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Former Google Employee's Memo Gets The Role Of Women In Tech Completely Wrong

August 16, 2017

According to the infamous memo that circulated around Google last month until its author, Google engineer James Damore, was fired, women are "biologically" unsuited to working in tech because they focus more on "feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas" and have a "stronger interest in people, rather than things." 

That would be news to the scores of women who were pioneers in the field. Women dominated computer science in the 1940s and 1950s, when the prestige of the industry and the pay accompanying those jobs was low. When men became the majority, notes The New York Times, the pay rose — and so did the prestige.

Women have been making groundbreaking advancements in computer science since the beginning, says Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn. 

She points to Ada Lovelace, who is widely recognized as being one of the first — if not the first — computer programmer in the world for her work on Charles Babbage's Analytical Machine.

"She envisioned it in a way that he didn't as being really what would become the computer," Koehn said. "This is the 1840s and 1850s — this is almost 100 years before what we think of as the predecessor as the computer."

Koehn also singled out Jean Jennings Bartik, who was critical in developing the mainframe computer ENIAC, but was not named in press photos nor invited to the celebratory dinner because she was a woman.

"We have lots of examples of astounding women on the cutting edge of high-tech. That history needs to be unpacked," Koehn said.

Click the audio player above to hear more from Nancy Koehn.


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