A Woman’s Role is in the Revolution

Katherine Freeman
4 min readMay 31, 2021

We have all heard of the Industrial Revolution, we all know about Queen Victoria, child labour, production line factories, smog, dangerous working conditions, all that good stuff; but did you know it is more commonly known as the Second Industrial Revolution? The First Industrial Revolution centred around a change in socioeconomic, cultural, and technological changes in Britain which paved way for the Second, but what came after that? Starting from 1950, the world entered the Third Industrial Revolution, also known as the Digital Revolution; computers, smartphones, and communication technology reign supreme. I am sure it comes as no surprise that this is the present day era; you are reading this essay on a computer screen, or perhaps printed on a piece of paper by a printer connected to a computer by an invisible WiFi network. Amazing stuff when you stop to think about it.

The US Defence Department, backed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the time, developed what was known as ARPANET, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, in October 1969. This was mainly in response to tensions between the US and the Soviet Union rising at the height of the Cold War. ARPANET was developed into what we now know as the Internet, or World Wide Web — arguably the most important invention of the Digital Revolution. Many great minds came together and combined their research to make it what it is today, including: Lawrence Roberts, chief scientist at ARPA, who was the first person to connect two computers together into a network, Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf who are mainly credited with inventing TCP/IP, a protocol which sets out how data can move through a network, Paul Baran, whose research proposed what is known as a distributed network, meaning if one computer in the network is destroyed, the surviving hosts would still be able to communicate with each other, Leonard Kleinrock, who worked on making distributed networks a reality, Donald Davies, a British scientist, who coined the networking term “packet” — that we still use today — who worked with Alan Turing on the pilot ACE computer, and J.C.R. Licklider, an engineer at MIT who worked on the interface between machines and their human operators on what is known as the SAGE project, which processed radar into a single unified image.

You may have noticed that all of the major credits for the creation of ARPANET, and therefore the internet, belong to men. That is not to say that women have had no role at all in the creation of the modern Digital Revolution, in fact, in 1843 a woman named Ada Lovelace is credited as being the world’s first computer programmer, this is especially significant as at that time, basic education for a woman was rare, let alone a scientific and academic education.

It is a well-known fact that there is a significant gender gap in STEM, with just 35% of students in higher education STEM subjects identifying as women, and even less so in computer science at just 15%. There are many historical and contemporary reasons for this including: lack of education for girls, young marriages, expectations of large families, harmful gender stereotypes, poverty, lack of access to resources, inequality, the sad list goes on. With the internet, the world is truly at the tip of our fingers, but what happens when half of the population’s fingers are effectively cut off?

Patriarchal society is the reality we live in, especially in the technology sector. Many women are cut off from the opportunity to learn and work and invent, but what does this mean? And what has this got to do with revolution? I want to give you an example from everyone’s favourite unethical, tax-avoiding, monopolistic, soul-sucking conglomerate — Amazon.com. In 2014 in a bid to automate the hiring process, Amazon engineers invented a machine learning Artificial Intelligence tool, to read through CVs and job applications, rank the best candidates, and inform the company who they should hire. After a year of use this system was scrapped, the AI seemed to only think men were worthy of a career at Amazon. This was not some Skynet cybernetic revolt in which a machine decided it wanted to become a red-pilling incel, the AI only did as it was programmed to do — look at past hiring practices and past CVs which were deemed worthy of interview, and recommend the ones most similar to them. As you can guess, these were mostly from men. This matches up with Amazon’s 2014 diversity figures which show 63% of their global workforce identified as male. This likely happened because the human hiring managers would pass up on women who had more than enough skill and experience, sometimes more than fellow male candidates, simply because of unconscious biases and perhaps subconsciously associating traditionally “feminine” achievements as inferior.

When women are excluded from the teams that will program and engineer the technologies of the future, half of the world’s voices are silenced. Only 35% of the populations of developing countries have access to the internet, the most potent force for learning and innovation, compared to 80% in advanced economies, which results in even less of a voice for BIPOC women. Diversity and Inclusion policies are often scoffed at as “unfair” for hiring women “less deserving” than men, but the fact is, organisations made up of the “most qualified” candidates will undoubtedly be majority male (not to mention white, rich, and privileged), and with this comes technology designed for only these privileged few in mind. Women’s increased presence in STEM — and therefore the Digital Revolution — benefits society as a whole; by being part of the process of making the technology that affects everyone globally, the resulting technology will be fairer and more inclusive for all. This is why it is more important than ever that a woman’s (especially a BIPOC, LGBT, disabled, and/or marginalised woman’s) role, must be in the revolution.