Women’s History Month is all about commemorating and celebrating women’s contributions to the world – including women in tech who were at the forefront of innovation.
Why it matters: While women have been historically underrepresented in tech-related fields, slow and steady progress to shrink the gender gap is underway. By highlighting the achievements of women in tech, we can further break down stereotypes, promote gender equality, and inspire the next generation of women to pursue careers in tech.
With the benefits of closing the gender gap in tech clear, it’s no wonder that women are behind some of the most critical technologies that we use today.
Here are three of the most influential women in tech history to celebrate this Women’s History Month.
1. Hedy Lamarr: The Mother of Wi-Fi
Many people know Hedy Lamarr from her acting roles during Hollywood’s “Golden Age.” But she also invented several surprising technologies that are still in use today.
Background: Austrian-born Lamarr became a movie star by the age of 18, acting in dozens of films in the 1930s and 40s. Alongside her acting career, she was also an inventor, with her interests in technology encouraged by her father from an early age. Lamarr collaborated with fellow curious minds to invent fascinating technologies.
Most notable invention: During World War II, Lamarr and composer George Antheil invented a communication system that guided torpedoes to targets without being detected by the enemy–a technology they called, “frequency hopping.” This system became the basis for modern technologies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS.
What happened next: Despite her significant technological advancements, Lamarr’s prowess as an inventor wasn’t publicly recognized until much later. In 2014, 14 years after her death, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
2. Valerie Thomas: A Pioneer of 3D Technology
As a Black female scientist, Valerie Thomas broke down barriers related to both gender and race.
Background: Born in Maryland in 1943, Thomas knew at the age of eight that she wanted to pursue a career in STEM. Following her passion, she attended Morgan State University where she was one of only two women in her class to major in physics. Thomas went on to work for NASA, making significant contributions to the space program for over 30 years.
Tech innovation: Thomas revolutionized imaging technology by inventing the illusion transmitter, which uses mirrors and lenses to create optical illusions. Her invention is still used by NASA today to project images from space and is the basis of 3D technology used in video, television, and surgical imaging.
What happened next After retiring from NASA in 1995, Thomas has continued to make valuable contributions to society by teaching and uplifting underrepresented youth in her field of work.
3. Dr. Marian Croak: The Woman Behind VoIP
As one of the first Black women to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Dr. Marian Croak holds more than 200 U.S. patents for her forward-looking inventions.
Background: Raised in NYC in the 1950s and 60s, Dr. Croak always had a desire to “repair things” or make things better. After receiving her Ph.D. in Quantitative Analysis and Psychology from the University of Southern California, she ultimately went on to make significant contributions to the field of voice-over -IP (VoIP technology).
Most notable invention: During her tenure at AT&T, Dr. Croak led a team of engineers that pioneered the use of VoIP technology for long distance calls, revolutionizing the telecommunications industry. Today, VoIP technology is the backbone of many modern apps, including Skype, WhatsApp, and Google Voice.
What happened next: Dr. Croak is currently a Vice President at Google, where her work continues to lead the development of new communication technologies and products. She is widely recognized as a leader in the tech industry and an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the field.
Hedy Lamarr, Valerie Thomas, and Dr. Marian Croak are just three of many women in tech who have made significant contributions throughout history. Their achievements have not only revolutionized the way we live, work, and communicate, but also paved the way for future generations of women in tech.
To learn more about how Beyond supports the goal of greater diversity, equity, and inclusion, click here.