Over the years we have seen many incredible women take the tech industry by storm, despite the challenges and inequality they have faced along the way. We wanted to take a moment to celebrate some of the many wonderful female entrepreneurs who are inspiring women the world over to get involved in the tech industry. Here are our top 10 favourite TED Talks from women in tech to get you fired up!
Reshma Saujani founded the incredible initiative, Girls Who Code, which encourages young women to pursue their interests in tech. In her talk she explores how girls tend to avoid risk and strive for perfection while boys are taught to take risks and “play rough”. She says this difference later translates into men taking many more risks in the work environment while women tend to play it safe. She says “we’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave”. By teaching girls to code, Saujani is socializing them to be brave, to live by trial and error and to take more risks.
Joy Buolamwini is a kickass coder working on overcoming the algorithmic bias in computer vision systems with her initiative, Algorithmic Justice League. In her TED talk she discusses how her thesis at MIT discovered a racial and gender bias in algorithms, which she is now tackling by working to make AI more ethical and inclusive. She says “we now have the opportunity to unlock even greater equality if we make social change a priority and not an after-thought.”
Crystal Martin is the director of the CoderGirl, an education program part of LaunchCode. It focuses on teaching women in technology, supporting them in their tech training and their careers. Her insightful TED talk explains how she experienced discrimination in the workplace and how her ideas were often overlooked due to her being a woman. "Why is it that 41% of women leave the tech field within their tenth year?” She asks, “In my opinion, it's because of messages like ‘keep your head down and say nothing’." She hopes to inspire women into feeling empowered in the tech world and to use their voices. Amen to that!
Cynthia Breazeal studied at MIT and is now a Roboticist working on the development of robots that behave and learn like people. She asks, “Why can we use robots on Mars but not in our living rooms?” She sees the potential that robots can have in all areas of life. She introduces Kismet, the world’s first social robot, who is able to interact with people in a “non-verbal child” kind of way. Cynthia’s fascinating TED talk introduces the areas of life that could benefit from robots, such as in long distant social interactions, in health or even interactive companionship.
Debbie Sterling founded the GoldieBlox, a company with a mission to inspire girls to get into engineering through toys and play. She believes the gender gap in STEM begins at a young age, remembering the moment she told her mother she wanted to be an engineer, and how she replied with “Ew, why?!” This view is evident in the workforce, where only 11% of engineers in the US are women. She says that by inspiring the future generation, we can remove the stigma surrounding STEM and encourage more girls into engineering.
In her TED talk, Keren Elazari introduces the concept of hacking as the internet’s immune system. She says that although hackers can be bad, they also encourage cybersecurity to keep improving and developing. Hackers can be the “Robin Hoods” of the internet, unveiling corruption or injustice. Keren’s inspiring talk paints a new picture of the web as a place where government corruption and data-hoarding companies can be uncovered. “For the past three decades, hackers have done a lot of things, but they have also impacted civil liberties, innovation and internet freedom… if we keep expecting them to be the bad guys, how can they be the heroes too?”
7. Rupal Patel
Rupal Patel, Founder and CEO of VocaliD, a voice AI company, has made waves in the tech world by creating a unique voice for those with severe speech disorders. She talks about the devices used by those with disorders, how one-dimensional and ineffective they are in communicating uniqueness, age, nationality and accent...the things that make up our identity. For example, why did Stephen Hawking, a British theoretical physicist, have an American accent? She has done extensive research on reverse engineering someone’s voice to create “custom, crafter voices that capture unique vocal identities.”
8. Karen Catlin
Karen’s TED talk is about the importance of women in tech, and how instrumental they are to innovation and new discoveries. “We need women to be shaping the future of tech, but they are not there”. She also stresses the importance of having more diversity in the workplace with people of all ages and ethnicities in tech teams, “so they can look at problems more holistically, and solve them for all people.” She shows how women are under-represented in the tech world but how those who are there have improved company success, tech research and innovation.
Jedidah Isler’s TED talk tells an inspiring story about how she became the first black woman to earn a PhD in astrophysics at Yale. Isler’s story is one of empowerment to women and girls of colour as she says, “...to every black, Latina, indigenous, First Nation or any other woman or girl who finds herself resting at the blessed intersection of race and gender, that you can be anything you want to be. My personal hope is that you'll become an astrophysicist, but beyond that, anything you want. Do not think for one minute that because you are who you are, you cannot be who you imagine yourself to be. Hold fast to those dreams and let them carry you into a world you can't even imagine.” Wow!
Dame Stephanie Shirley is probably one of the most inspiring women in tech having founded an all-woman software company in the 1960s. Her powerful and witty talk discusses the experiences she went through as a pioneer woman in tech. From calling herself “Steve” in her business development letters to how she was constantly doubted by men. She says, “You can always tell ambitious women by the shape of our heads: they’re flat on top from being patted patronizingly.”