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Ada Lovelace Day – A personal view on her legacy as a pioneer in Computing and Mathematics

Ada Lovelace Day – A personal view on her legacy as a pioneer in Computing and Mathematics

Jackie Bowie Chatham October 2018
Walking into Chatham’s offices at 12 St James’s Square, the blue English Heritage plaque on the entrance stands out boldly against the white façade. Our building was once the home of the late Ada Lovelace, Pioneer of Computing and Mathematics.

We feel very fortunate to work in a building closely associated with such an important historical figure; and we delight in telling our clients the story of why we named our soon-to-launch derivative valuation and hedge accounting platform ‘Ada’. However, there is also a tinge of disappointment for me when the most common response is ‘so, who is Ada Lovelace?’

A quick introduction to Ada. The daughter of Lord Byron (although in birth only as he was an absent father), she is described as a ‘brilliant mind’, nicknamed ‘the Enchantress of the Number’. Born in the early 1800s she worked on Babbage’s computer (the Analytical Machine), recognising that the machine had applications beyond just calculation. Papers published during that time associate her work as being one of the first algorithms. She went beyond pure mathematics and examined how individuals could relate to technology as a collaborative tool. A visionary as well as a mathematician.

Ada Lovelace Day was created to ‘raise the profile of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths’ and to ‘create role models for women in those fields’. The fact that her name still seems little recognised, and the low number of women in senior roles within STEM related industries, tells me that the message is not penetrating.

As a female, leading a derivatives advisory firm with a predominantly male team, I am constantly reminded of the lack of women at Chatham, as well as the low number of female applicants we receive for the roles we are looking to fill. I am also the mother of two teenage daughters and keenly aware of the choices they will make in the coming years on A-levels and further education. For me, it does not seem to be that there is a lack of encouragement at school for girls to choose STEM subjects. My own academic experience also bears this out – females were fairly equally represented in the university lectures I attended, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. It was only when I started my career and progressed into more senior roles, did I become acutely aware that there were fewer women. This is borne out in many studies. I studied in Scotland, so paid close attention to the ‘Tapping All Our Talents’ research published by RSE; noting that in Scotland a large number of women actually do graduate in STEM subjects but then fail to move into STEM careers. Interestingly, the RSE also estimates the contribution to Scotland’s economy if this were not the case – around £170m p.a.

The reasons and explanations are multi-faceted and too many to explore here but the response needs to come from all sides – parents, teachers, employers. I do think my role as a parent is one of the most critical influencers – and that would be the same if I were parenting boys or girls; not ‘falling’ into the gender stereotypes of male and female in the home environment. From a professional perspective, Chatham is paying attention to the language we use in job adverts to understand whether they are equally attractive to both males and females. We think about how we conduct interviews and consider our work environment to understand what will attract the broadest range of candidates.

We are celebrating Ada today at her home, our office, 12 St James’s Square; and while we know we have a long way to go to encourage females to enter (and stay in) jobs that are STEM related, we hope we can do our part by shouting about Ada’s achievements, being very aware of what we need to do to make our industry more attractive to women, and to encourage our daughters to explore all subjects that spark their natural passion and curiosity.

For more information, please contact Jackie Bowie, CEO at Chatham: jbowie@chathamfinancial.com.


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