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Incredible US female role models in tech you should know about

Pink female symbol in a crowd of white men symbols, female role model concept

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Women's representation in the US tech industry is still just 26.7%, highlighting the need for visible role models. SheCanCode is shining a spotlight on extraordinary female figures like Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician behind space missions, Susan Wojcicki, former YouTube CEO, Mayim Bialik, neuroscientist and advocate, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Meta Platforms, Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble CEO, and Mary Wilkes, a pioneer in computer programming.

It’s no secret that women are under-represented in the tech industry in the US – as of 2023, women only hold 26.7% of tech-related jobs in the US!

There is clearly work still to be done to encourage more women into the industry. But we can’t be, what we can’t see and having visible role models is just one way to turn the dial.

Studies have shown that having role models is an incredibly effective way to encourage women into the sector; inspire them to be more ambitious; and show them what is possible.

As part of our ‘Around the World’ series, we’re taking a look at just some of the incredible tech female role models in the US. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but more a chance to shine the spotlight on just some of the incredible women in tech and how their work has left its mark on the world.

Our ‘Around the World’ series will spotlight countries and continents and highlight specific resources and helpful articles for that region. This week, we’re focusing on the US and across seven days, we’ll share everything from top women’s networks, events, female role models and career guides.

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson was a NASA mathematician and one of the inspirations for the Hollywood film, Hidden Figures.

The pioneering African-American mathematician’s calculations were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed space flights. Johnson’s work also helped break down many of the social and racial barriers at the time.

Johnson was hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1953 and worked in the racially segregated computing unit until 1958, when NACA became NASA. In the same year, Johnson joined Project Mercury, the US’s first human space program, as one of the ‘computers’ who calculated rocket trajectories and earth orbits by hand.

In 1961, Johnson was responsible for the trajectory analysis for the Freedom 7 Mission – the first to carry an American into space.

In 1962, she went on to manually verify calculations for astronaut John Glenn’s orbital mission, when the US beat the USSR in the Space Race.

In 1969, Johnson calculated the trajectories that allowed Apollo 11 to land on the moon and Neil Armstrong to make his historic walk.

In 2015, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour, by President Barack Obama.

Susan Wojcicki

Susan Wojcicki was the longtime CEO of YouTube – a position she held from 2014 to 2023. She stepped down recently to spend time on her “family, health and personal projects.”

Susan has worked in the tech industry for over 20 years, becoming involved in the creation of Google in 1998 when she rented out her garage as an office to the company’s founders. She worked as Google’s first marketing manager in 1999, and later led the company’s online advertising business and original video service. After observing the success of YouTube, she suggested that Google should buy it; the deal was approved for $1.65 billion in 2006.

She was recently honoured with a Barbie doll in her likeness to mark International Women’s Day.

Mayim Bialik

While widely recognised as the lead in the TV show, Blossom, and for her role as Amy Farrah Fowler in The Big Bang Theory, Mayim has a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA.  

She is vocal advocate for getting more girls into science and has given lectures about investing in STEM careers and research. In The Big Bang Theory, Mayim plays the role of a neuroscientist, shining the spotlight on STEM for girls.

Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg served as the COO of Meta Platforms from 2008 to 2022. She is the founder of Leanin.org – a not-for-profit focused on inspiring and supporting women to achieve their goals.

Sheryl is also the author of the book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, which draws from Sheryl’s own personal experiences and tackles how women can help themselves succeed.

In 2008, Sheryl became the COO of Facebook and in 2012, she was elected to Facebook’s board of directors, becoming the first woman to serve on its board.

In 2012, she was named as was of the most influential people in the world in the Time 100 annual list.

Reshma Saujani

Reshma Saujani is a lawyer, politician and the founder of Girls Who Code, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to support and increase the number of girls and women in tech.

She worked in city government as a deputy public advocate at the New York City Public Advocate’s office. In 2009, Reshma ran against Carolyn Maloney for the U.S. House of Representatives seat from New York’s 14th congressional district, becoming the first Indian-American woman to run for Congress. In 2013, she ran as a Democratic candidate for Public Advocate, coming third in the primary

Reshma founded Girls Who Code in 2012 after visiting schools on her Congress campaign trail and becoming aware of the gender disparity in computing.

Reshma is also the author of a number of books including, Women Who Don’t Wait in Line: Break the Mold, Lead the Way and Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World.

Whitney Wolfe Herd

Whitney Wolfe Herd is the Founder and CEO of the dating app Bumble, which has resulted in her becoming one of the youngest female self-made billionaires in the world.

She is also the co-founder of Tinder and was previously its Vice President of Marketing.

Whitney was named as one of 2017’s and 2018’s Forbes 30 Under 30, and in 2018, she was named in the Time 100 list.

Mary Wilkes

Mary Wilkes is a former computer programmer and logic designer, known for her work with the LINC computer – now recognised by many as the world’s first ‘personal computer’.

In the eighth grade, Mary’s geography teacher told her she ought to be a computer programmer when she grew up.

Despite Mary initially wanting to be a lawyer, she was discouraged from this career path due to the industry being very male-dominated at the time.

Wilkes worked under Oliver Selfridge and Benjamin Gold on the Speech Recognition Project at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts from 1959 to 1960, programming the IBM 704 and the IBM 70.

After working on large, punch-card programmed computers for IBM, Mary was eventually assigned to work on a new, smaller computer that had its own screen and keyboard. The LINC became her most well-known project. It was the very first “minicomputer” – and the predecessor to what we consider personal computers today.

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