National Coding Week: The women who programmed the future

National Coding Week: The women who programmed the future

In 2019, despite women having paved the way for many of tech’s most brilliant innovations, women are still both underrepresented and underpaid in the tech industry. While steps are being made to make tech and STEM subjects more accessible options for young girls, through initiatives such as Girls Who Code and the Grace Hopper program, there is still a long way to go.

So, this National Coding Week, we decided to celebrate the women who have made history with their intelligence and pioneering spirit. Continue reading to learn about those women who are, too often, despite having made history, left out of the history books.

Annie Easley

Annie Easley was born in 1933 in Birmingham, Alabama. Originally training as a Pharmacist, she began her career as a human computer at NACA, soon to be known as NASA, performing complex mathematical calculations. When computers (machines, not humans) came about she became a programmer, learning languages like the Formula Translating System, or Fortran.

Most famously, she developed the software for the Centaur Rocket, which powered the first American space probe to land on an extra-terrestrial body. She worked for NASA for 34 years before retiring in 1989.

Margaret Hamilton

The first two men to land on the moon may never have got there if it weren’t for computer programmer Margaret Hamilton, who developed the sophisticated onboard flight software for the Apollo missions.

She worked tirelessly to perfect the software, preparing for emergency scenarios. As it turned out, no software bugs were ever known to have occurred during any of the Apollo missions. The code she wrote to develop the software formed books that reached to her height when she stood next to them.

Katie Bouman

Our most recent coder, Katie Bouman, led the creation of an algorithm that resulted in the first image of a supermassive black hole at the heart of the Messier 87 galaxy, 55 million light years from earth. Bouman’s experience is in Computer Science, however, she became involved in the project to create a clear picture of a black hole while undertaking a PhD in computer vision.

She said, “even though we had worked on this for years, I don’t think any of us expected we would get a ring that easily. We just expected a blob.”

Grace Hopper

A true pioneer, Grace Hopper was a computer scientist and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral, with a degree in mathematics from Vassar College, and a masters and PhD from Yale University. After teaching mathematics at Vassar, she left to join the war effort.

During her time in the Naval Reserve, she helped program the world’s first computer, the Mark 1. She did not retire until she was 79 years old and is credited with coining the terms “bug” and “de-bug” in relation to computer errors. The Cray XE6 “Hopper” supercomputer at the NERSC is named after her.

Mary Jackson

NASA’s first black female engineer, Mary Jackson, was an African American mathematician and aerospace engineer. In 34 years at NASA she earned the most senior engineering title available. However, having fought to overcome race related issues all her life, such as segregation in the early years at NASA (while it was still NACA), she was denied management-level positions.

As a result, she accepted a demotion to become a manager of the women’s program at NASA. In this role, she worked to support both the hiring and promotion of women in NASA, only retiring in 1985.

Katherine Johnson

Beginning her career as a human-computer, Katherine Johnson was a graduate at 18, graduating summa cum laude with degrees in both mathematics and French. Over a 35 year career, she calculated the orbital mechanics behind the NASA missions that launched crewed missions for the first time in U.S. history and co-authored 26 scientific papers.

In her time at NASA she instigated change regarding both racial segregation and sexism. She was the first woman in her division to put her name on a report, after a male colleague refused, as women were typically not allowed to put their names on reports despite whether they had done the majority of the work.

John Glenn, the astronaut who orbited the earth three times in 1962, refused to fly unless the computer’s calculations had been personally verified by Johnson.

Joan Clarke

Known for her work as a code-breaker at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, Joan Clarke was immortalised by Keira Knightley in the film The Imitation Game, which also focused on her relationship with Alan Turing.

She gained a double first in mathematics from the University of Cambridge (though she was denied a full degree) and in 1939 was recruited into the Government Code and Cypher School.

As a woman, she was initially assigned clerical work and paid significantly less than her male counterparts. However, within a few days her significant abilities were recognised, and she joined Turing and the other male mathematicians in decoding German messages, ultimately ending the war up to 2 years early.

If you want to read more about the women changing the future of tech today, take a look at our blog

Social diversity for employers

Only 7% of the UK’s workforce attended an independent school and yet, graduates of independent schools make up over 50% “of the top level of most professions.” According to the State of the Nation report, “only 1 in 8 children from low-income backgrounds is likely to become a high-income earner.”

With statistics like these, it’s clear that serious action needs to be taken concerning social and economic diversity within the workplace. However, research shows that many organisations still do not have diversity agendas in place regarding candidates from lower economic backgrounds.  

Why does social and economic diversity matter?

Many workplaces now have targets in place. Or, they at least have an awareness of the need for diversity in terms of sexuality, gender, ethnicity, age and disability when recruiting.

Research has evidenced the benefits of diversifying teams. Diverse teams perform better, encourage up to 83% more productivity and make decisions up to 60% faster than none diverse teams. Diverse teams are also “credited with better employee engagement and retention.”

Clearly, diversity within the workplace makes sense both economically and culturally. However, within these diversity agendas, candidates from lower-income backgrounds still do not remain a priority. Research by Talent Works International has uncovered that many employers overlook socio-economic diversity in their targets. 

Why is this?

There are several potential reasons. It is more likely to be a culmination of all of them, as well as systemic prejudice, rather than one in particular.

Firstly, there is no law against class discrimination.

Therefore, employers are not legally obliged to consider socio-economic background or class in their recruitment processes. If employers are not obliged, there is no reward or immediate benefit to them putting targets in place. The benefits of diversity of thought are often long-term. So, it may seem like there is no pressing reason for employers to implement changes. 

Secondly, class is relatively invisible and, still, difficult to define.

Class is a shifting social structure – “the architecture of British social hierarchy has undergone huge shifts as a result of broader changes in social, economic and cultural life.” The boundaries aren’t the same as they once were and, as such, people sometimes struggle to categorise themselves. 

The challenges to working-class people are not necessarily apparent to people not directly affected by them. As such, the lack of working-class people in positions of influence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, those currently in positions to make changes don’t understand the difficulties. Those who do understand them do not have the power to create change.

So, how can employers create opportunities for candidates from lower economic backgrounds?

Organisations need to recognise that there is a problem in the first place. Then, they need to consider the class divide as not so much something to be overcome, but as an opportunity to grow. To adequately understand the opportunity for growth, employers need to assess their workforce to gain more detailed knowledge of where there is room for change. 

Then, organisations need to commit to diversity agendas, which specifically target class and socio-economic background and set specific recruitment targets.

When it comes to diversity, drastic measures need to be taken to initiate real, lasting change. A true overhaul will become inevitable once working-class talent takes up the same space as talent from privileged backgrounds.

How to achieve these targets?

Employers should be open and honest about their diversity measures and goals with both their current workforce and any potential candidates.

This may seem like a risk; however, “publicly sharing data about company diversity can have tremendous benefits.” As Cindy Robbins, president and chief people officer at Salesforce, says, “sometimes to be an advocate, you have to be overt.” So, committing to an annual audit to measure your progress can establish your organisation as a leader in diversity measures.

For example, Buffer prides itself on being transparent about its organisational diversity, employee salaries, and cash flow. As such, Buffer has a well-established, positive employer brand and is extremely profitable, being valued at $60 million.

Why does your employer brand matter?

A strong employer brand can improve your recruitment processes and, ultimately, your company culture. This can lead to more quality hires and longer retention rates. Being open about your diversity rates can be integral to your talent attraction strategy. For instance, 78% of candidates look into a company’s reputation before even applying for a job with them.

So, now is the time to access a wealth of talent that could transform your company and become a leader for socio-economic diversity amongst employers. For more information on the class divide in workplaces, get in touch with us at to read our whitepaper on the topic.

International Women’s Day: Women in Tech

At Talent Works, we work with several clients in tech. So, we decided, on International Women’s Day, to celebrate the women working in tech.

Technology is an incredible force for good in our ever-changing world. Yet, it is estimated that only 1% of the tech sector will be female by 2040 if there are no interventions. However, the tech industry is gradually changing. More and more women are excelling in tech careers thanks to female pioneers such as those we’re celebrating below, as well as organisations such as Girls Who Code. To celebrate, we thought we’d take a look at some of the women currently changing the future of tech.

Trisha Prabhu

Young software engineer Trisha Prabhu developed an app called ReThink to help curb cyberbullying. After a young girl committed suicide because of online abuse, she was inspired to understand why young people send abusive messages. She learned that the prefrontal cortex, which controls decision-making skills, isn’t fully developed until age 25. Therefore, at times adolescents don’t consider what they do before they do it, resulting in impulsive, often harmful decisions such as sending an abusive message. Prabhu realised that if she could develop an app which detects offensive messages before they’re sent, she could give young people the chance to rethink what they are about to post. The app has been incredibly successful, with research showing that 93% of teenagers who had ReThink decided not to publish an abusive message. You can check out her Ted Talk here.

Zara Nanu

Tech Entrepreneur Zara Nanu founded software business Gapsquare in 2015 to help close the gender pay gap in less than 20 years. Gapsquare uses machine learning to analyse a company’s gender pay gap and flag opportunities to close it as they arise. Data can provide tangible goals for businesses to aim for in terms of their Diversity and Inclusion policies. Such data can influence whether candidates choose to work for certain companies, and in turn, this level of transparency can increase retention rates. So, not only is Zara Nanu helping to end pay inequality, she’s providing lasting change to employee welfare and optimising workforces. You can check out the Gapsquare website here.

Reshma Saujani

Founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani, is helping to close the gender gap in the tech industries. Girls Who Code provides free after-school programmes which teach girls computer science, communication skills vital for developing a career, and the values of sisterhood. She cites evidence from psychologist Carol Dweck who found that girls with a high IQ were quick to give up on challenging material, whereas boys with a high IQ were more likely to redouble their efforts. Saujani states in her Ted Talk that “women have been socialised to aspire to perfection. Girls Who Code is her answer to the perfection problem, by advocating teaching girls bravery, not perfection.” You can hear her talk about this here.

Kimberly Bryant

Kimberly Bryant is the founder of Black Girls Code, a not-for-profit which works to increase the number of women of colour working in tech, which currently sits at only 3%. The organisation provides opportunities to girls from underrepresented communities, who are talented in the STEM and Computer Science fields. She says, Black Girls Code is about instilling a sense of confidence in their own innate ability, so they can lead and create companies of their own. The organisation is community driven and committed to their own values, having refused grants from large companies they feel are not active enough in the community. Bryant was named as a Champion of Change for Tech Inclusion at the White House in 2013. You can watch her Ted Talk here.

Susan Wojcicki

Susan Wojcicki has been named one of the most powerful women “on the internet.” She was involved in the founding of Google and is now CEO of YouTube. She is also a pioneer of diversity in the workplace, advocating for more women to work in tech and for getting girls interested in computer science. She has also advocated for the US to become a leader in maternity-leave benefits.” Any list of women in tech would be incomplete without her!

Yasmine Mustafa

Named by the BBC as one of its 100 Women of 2016, Yasmine Mustafa is the founder of ROAR for Good, an organisation which produces a piece of tech jewellery called Athena. Athena is designed as a discreet device used to share a person’s location and sound an alarm if they feel unsafe. Initially moving to the United States as a refugee at 8 years old, Yasmine first founded 123LinkIt, a blog advertising agency. Most recently, she founded the Philadelphia chapter of Girl Develop It which provides affordable web development classes for women. A social entrepreneur who is championing the rise of women in tech, Yasmine Mustafa isn’t stopping anytime soon.

Angela Ahrendts

The highest paid executive at Apple until April when she leaves for “new personal and professional pursuits,” Angela Ahrendts has been a surprise to the tech industry. Moving from the fashion industry as former Burberry CEO into the Head of Retail position in 2014, she became one of the most important people in Apple. She leads 50% of the workforce and is still the only woman on the senior leadership team.”

Progress is on the rise, and these are just some of the women spearheading the movement. You can check out last year’s post on our Top 5 marketing campaigns empowering women here.

Happy International Women’s Day to all our colleagues and clients!

Diversity agendas: more than meets the eye

Diversity agendas are less advanced than we thought

Fewer organisations have a formal diversity strategy compared with previous years. That’s the surprise finding from the latest joint CIPD and Hays Resourcing and Talent Planning survey. It seems the problem with workplace diversity agendas runs deeper than initially meets the eye.

For our upcoming white paper, we examined the diversity agendas of the top 20 UK companies by revenue but were unable to identify any company that target employees from disadvantaged backgrounds. From this we concluded that while many employers have committed to making great strides at creating greater opportunities for women and minority groups, they have a real blind spot when it comes to class that leaves their diversity agendas wanting.

The CIPD report, based on feedback from over 1000 HR professionals across the UK, reveals that many organisations don’t even have a formal diversity agenda, let alone an incomplete agenda.

According to the survey,

  • Only just over half of organisations (52%) have a formal diversity strategy
  • The proportion of organisations with a diversity strategy has fallen compared to previous years; 2017: 52%; 2015: 58%; 2013: 58%; 2012: 56%
  • Private sector organisations are even less likely to have a formal strategy (43%)
  • The proportion of organisations monitoring candidate information to improve recruitment of under-represented groups has increased only slightly, as has the proportion advertising vacancies via different sources to attract under-represented groups.
  • Most other methods to attract under-represented groups have decreased compared with 2015. The initiative that has experienced the largest decrease, –13 percentage points, is for attracting talent of all ages.

Diversity agenda
Initiatives adopted to improve diversity in organisations. Source: Resourcing and Talent Planning 2017, CIPD in partnership with Hays

Why it’s in employers’ interests to invest in a formal diversity agenda

The need to focus on diversity more couldn’t be clearer or more pressing. Four fifths of organisations feel the competition for well-qualified talent has increased over the past year with 72% anticipating competition further increasing over the coming years. Three quarters report having recruitment difficulties in the last year. For this reason, organisations need to broaden their potential pool of candidates.

The task ahead

A fundamental expansion of diversity agendas is needed in response to Britain’s deep social mobility problem. Employers need to commit to adding class to the diversity agenda. But for many employers the task is more fundamental – they need to create a formal diversity agenda. For some this will necessitate a fundamental shift in the way they perceive diversity in relation to the employer brand.

They need to appreciate that the diversity agenda is not separate from the overall employer brand, but an integral component of the overall employer brand. The diversity agenda supports the overall employer brand by helping to define what’s expected of employees – that you will treat everyone fairly and equally. In return it is an opportunity to define what employees can expect from you, that you will have full and equal opportunity to demonstrate and fulfil your ability, regardless of your upbringing or appearance. The diversity agenda shapes the give and get of the employment deal.

As the competition for talent becomes greater, the needs for employers to have a clear, compelling and distinctive employee value proposition (EVP) to attract talent.  An organisation’s values are of increasing importance to both candidates and employees, and deserve to be at the heart of the EVP. Notably organisations that have made a conscious effort to improve their employer brand have done so by improving the communication of their values. To do this successfully organisations need to articulate the value they place on promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Employers need to embed diversity values into their overall employer brand, rather than seeing them as a separate entity. By doing this it will pave the way to a formal diversity agenda, and that will start to improve the access to a broader talent pool.

Want to know more? Our whitepaper on the social mobility problem in the UK is being released later this month. Enter your details below and we’ll send you a free copy on launch day.

The blog is part of our diversity discussion series. For more blogs on diversity click here.

Katharine Newton is Head of Insight at Talent Works International (TWI). TWI is a global talent communications firm that helps organisations around the world build effective and efficient talent strategies through our research, sourcing and creative teams. For more information, contact:

The social diversity blind spot

Earlier this year, in a white paper about the UK’s social mobility problem, Talent Works called on employers to address their social diversity ‘blind spot’ and incorporate class in their diversity agendas. Things have taken an interesting turn since then. Last month, the BBC announced that it was considering setting targets regarding the socio-economic class of its workforce. It also announced that it is removing details of university degrees and school education from the CVs of all its potential recruits, in a further effort to improve the class diversity of its workforce. This last measure is already in place at the corporation for entry-level roles such as trainees and apprenticeships.

Then a few days ago Ofcom announced that from now on the BBC will publish information about its workforce every year – information on their gender, sexuality, disability, ethnic background and – social class.

This is undoubtedly an important first step on the road to giving talent from disadvantaged backgrounds equal access to employment in the BBC. It shows that the BBC has recognised there is a problem – a fundamental gap – in their diversity agenda, and sees an opportunity to advance their agenda.

So why is the BBC thinking of setting targets regarding class and why does class diversity matter?

The ‘posh’ BBC

The BBC announced that it may set targets regarding the socio-economic class of its workforce after an internal survey found that the proportion of its workforce with parents who are in or have been in higher managerial positions or professional occupations (considered an accurate indicator of a privileged background) is double the national average. The survey also found that:

  • 17% of BBC staff and 25% of its management team went to private school – significantly above the UK average of 7%
  • 52% of staff had parents with university degrees – also above the average
  • 61% of staff had parents who are in or have been in higher managerial positions or professional occupations

Following the publication of the results, Sharon White, chief executive of Ofcom the media regulator, described the BBC as too focused on middle aged and middle-class people. The issue was “incredibly important” for diversity.

Blind spot

Very much echoing our white paper, James Purnell, BBC director of radio and education, admitted that the BBC already has targets for gender, race, sexuality and disability but not class. “We don’t have targets for socioeconomic but we are thinking about it… We would love to have a target, we would be very happy to do that, it’s just what would be.”

For our white paper, “Why workplace diversity agendas must address employers’ social diversity ‘blind spot’”, Talent Works took the top 20 UK companies by revenue* and analysed their diversity agendas. For each business, the kind of person it strives to attract, develop and retain was identified and also any groups that its diversity agenda explicitly references. We found that most, if not all, seek to provide a more diverse and inclusive workplace in relation to age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and disability. A number of companies have broadened their approach to diversity by targeting parents, carers and working families. But it was not possible to identify a single company that said it targets employees from disadvantaged or working-class backgrounds.

We concluded that while many employers have committed to and are making great strides at creating greater opportunities for women, ethnic minorities, the disabled and the LGBT community, they have a real blind spot when it comes to class that leaves their diversity agendas wanting.

Why class diversity matters

In another echo of our white paper, Kevin Bakhurst, content and media policy director at Ofcom said that the BBC’s expanded approach to diversity, combined with new rules on original content and spending across the UK, would boost production. “It will make a real change in production and UK-made programmes”, he said. “It will support production across the country and improve the representation of people who don’t feel they are represented properly.

A blind spot when it comes to social class is bad for business, stated our white paper. Failure to embrace talent from economically disadvantaged backgrounds means missing out on a sizeable pool of talent, missing out on high quality candidates, and missing out on candidates with skills and attributes that are increasingly valuable in the workplace.

  • According to the last census, 14.5 percent of all pupils at state primaries are in receipt of free school meals. The corresponding figure for pupils at secondary schools is 13.2 percent. Add to these two figures the number of pupils receiving lunches through the universal infant free school meal programme, and that’s a sizeable future talent pool.
  • Individuals from working class backgrounds learn rules of survival, solidarity and community. Values of solidarity and community make for good team players, and being able to work in a team is, as we know, critical to business success. Teamwork is also more conducive to creativity and innovation.

Not just an agenda for employers

It’s great news that the BBC has started to look at diversity from a socio-economic perspective, and we really hope that other employers will follow in the BBC’s footsteps and take that first vital step towards giving good quality talent from poorer backgrounds full and equal opportunity to fulfil their ability, to contribute and make difference.

But class inequality isn’t just an agenda for employers. We, in the recruitment and talent communications industry, need to think about what we can also do to help employers foster and develop talent from poorer backgrounds. Perhaps we can help employers tailor their onboarding programmes to new hires from working class backgrounds. Perhaps we can help them build relationships with middle and low-ranked universities where there are good numbers of high ability students from poorer homes.

Let’s work together to expand the diversity agenda.

* The top 20 UK companies by revenue and which feature in the Fortune 500, an annual ranking of the top 500 corporations worldwide as measured by revenue

Katharine Newton is Head of Insight at Talent Works International (TWI). TWI is a global talent communications firm that helps organisations around the world build effective and efficient talent strategies through our research, sourcing and creative teams. For more information, contact: