Women in technology

Women in technology
March 24, 2009 Alice MacGillivray

Along with over a thousand other people, I have pledged to celebrate the first ever Ada Byron Lovelace Day by publishing a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire.

In the mid 1990s I worked with a Ministry of Education, helping to weave themes and philosophies–such as gender equity–into the K-12 curricula. One of my projects was to work with Susan Simmons of the Association for the Promotion and Advancement of Science. We were to help female teachers build confidence and skills in their work with computers, which had magically appeared in classrooms with little orientation. Susan was a confident and energetic internet user and an advocate for good girls’ education. She had written a science activity book for girls that was very well received in field tests, though not approved by the Ministry because it “cheapened science,” turning it into “kitchen science.” Think how many layers of bias are woven into that decision.

We designed workshops for teachers. In one of our planning sessions, we showed a university website of 50 Great Canadian Scientists. One of the women (from Women in Trades & Technology) commented that there weren’t any women on the list. “You should complain” said Susan. “Yes, I suppose I should write a letter” she replied. “No: you can contact them through the internet–right here…” So the woman who worked with trades had her first experience with the networked world.

In our next planning session, we pulled up a reply that there were no women on the site because the scientists had to be “great.” There was a woman in the room who had recently researched female Canadian scientists, and had a list of 100. Again, the internet was used to reply and a few of the names quickly made it onto the university’s website.  These were transformational moments for several people in the room.

I have no idea what Susan is doing now, but based on the enthusiasm, tenacity and passion of our time together, I know she has influenced more than she can imagine.

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