Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace day

Today is Ada Lovelace day when we celebrate women in technology. I'm not usually much of a one for girls-only recognition, but perhaps we are still a long way from the point where technological jobs are seen as being as open to women as they are to men.

I have to say that I think the exception is the field of ICT and related matters. Because of the relative newness of the field and the speed at which it has developed, there was no time for sexism. So, instead of writing about a particular woman in information/comms technology, and instead of extolling the many virtues of the women in my network, I am going to take a slightly different approach.

I would like to give a shout out to all the anonymous female motor mechanics, electricians, engineers of all kinds, fighter pilots, microsurgeons and so on. All the girls who hold their own in fields still largely seen as the male province.

When I was coming to the end of high school, I really wanted to be a mechanical engineer. I wanted to design machines. I like the way machines work and they make sense to me. Since we had no money to speak of, I was going to need a bank loan, so we set about applying for one. Every bank manager we saw told me the same story: they were not going to lend money to a girl who wanted to study mechanical engineering, because the attrition rate was too high, the risks too great and the return on the investment doubtful. I was encouraged to consider chemical or light current electrical engineering instead. Since I was hopeless with both those areas of the science curriculum at school, I had no interest in going that route.

I admire those women who haven't taken no for an answer. Who have activated their 'I'll show you' button and who earn their keep doing jobs that their grandmothers never heard of and that their mothers thought only suitable for boys.

One such anonymous woman was my husband's late aunt Gunnel Bjureblad, who was an engineer. She died four years back, aged 70-something, and I imagine the opposition she faced in her day was even tougher than my own, especially since her Dad thought that education beyond the age of 14 was wasted on a girl.

Call it a cop out if you like, but I salute the Gunnel Bjureblads of the world today. All of them.

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