Breaking barriers: top female innovators in tech

9 mins

It’s 2023, yet women still hold only 26% of tech-related jobs worldwide. Yes, that...

It’s 2023, yet women still hold only 26% of tech-related jobs worldwide. Yes, that’s an improvement from 2019’s figure of 19%, but there’s still a long way to level out gender imbalance in the industry.

Despite the challenges and obstacles faced by women in technology, they continue to make their mark as true trailblazers. Paving the way for the next generation of females in tech, here are just a few (in no particular order) of the many accomplished female leaders across the globe, then and now.

(1) Reshma Saujani

Reshma Saujani is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a non-profit organisation that aims to close the gender gap in tech through education. Proud to be ‘building the world’s largest pipeline of future female engineers,” Girls Who Code is working hard to change the image of what a programmer looks like and does. The organisation has more than 8,500 programs worldwide and continues to grow.

But Reshma’s achievements don’t end there. She previously worked for law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, where she was responsible for defending security fraud cases. And she has also run for political office in the US, including a bid for Congress in 2010.


(2) Susan Wojcicki

Susan Wojcicki is an American tech executive who began working for Google in 1999 and played a key role in the development of AdSense, the company’s advertising platform. She later became CEO of YouTube in 2014 and has been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Women multiple times.

Susan’s famous for saying: “Today, most young women are exposed to technology at a very young age, with mobile phones, tablets, the Web or social media. They are much more proficient with technology than prior generations since they use it for all their schoolwork, communication and entertainment... Though we do need more women to graduate with technical degrees, I always like to remind women that you don't need to have science or technology degrees to build a career in tech.”


(3) Erica Beal

Erica Beal is another female tech trailblazer making waves. Featured here by Forbes as a Latina CEO breaking down gender barriers in engineering, she founded professional services engineering firm AVIVV. Thanks to Erica’s dedication, AVIVV is also known for becoming the first engineering firm to be a certified military spouse-owned enterprise.

She’s quoted as having said “I believe everyone deserves an opportunity to succeed. Some say trust is earned; however, I believe trust should be given the moment we connect. Everyone deserves an opportunity to have a fair chance.”


(4) Megan Smith

American engineer and entrepreneur Megan Smith served as the Chief Technology Officer for the United States under President Barack Obama. Stats from UNWomen reveal that politics remains a very male-dominated space, so an outstanding achievement for Megan who has reached heights in both government and tech.

Although Megan Smith may not be as well-known as some others on this list, she’s offered and contributed more to the STEM and business world than we may ever know. A proponent of diversity in tech, Megan is an active advocate for women and underrepresented groups in the industry.


(5) Angel Rich

Did you know that the founder of fintech The Wealth Factory, which designs educational technology games for developing workforces, is a female? Angel Rich is a woman of colour not only making headlines for her achievements with The Wealth Factory, but also is an author and the founder and CEO of credit bureau CreditRich.

But her story doesn’t end there. Angel is further well-known for being the founder of Black Tech Matters (BTM) – an organisation linking students, entrepreneurs, and professionals with tech companies. Angel’s passionate about helping youngsters to hone financial literacy skills, and about increasing diversity in STEM.


(6) Hedy Lamarr

Going back in time now. Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-born American actress, but she was also an inventor who came up with the idea of frequency-hopping radio signals in the early 1940s. Even back then, and despite being a tech trailblazer, she worried about the negative effects of tech, stating, “With all these new inventions I believe people are hurried more and pushed more… you need time for everything – time for work, time to play, time to rest.”

Hedy’s technology later became the basis for modern Bluetooth and Wi-Fi communication systems. We wonder if Hedy knew the impact her work would have on our future technology? Hopefully she’d be pleased to know her breakthroughs have mostly helped, not hindered, our lives!


(7) Diana Iracheta

Another woman famous for breaking down barriers as both a female in a male-dominated industry and as an ethnic minority is the founder of Latina Engineer, Diana Iracheta.

A strong advocate of STEM, and particularly women in STEM, Diana is a manufacturing engineer at Amsted Automotive. Proud of her own achievements since migrating from Mexico at the age of 12 and achieving a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Northern Illinois University, Diana’s mission is to increase the representation of Latinas in the engineering field.


(8) Dr. Sue Black

Dr. Sue Black is a British computer scientist who founded Techmums, a program designed to teach mothers from disadvantaged backgrounds basic coding skills. She’s also famous for her work on the campaign to save Bletchley Park, where codebreakers during World War II cracked Nazi codes.

In a recent quote Sue reminded women, “Even if you don’t love coding or computers, remember that technology is just a massive suite of tools that you can use to do any specific thing you want.” She’s keen to encourage other women into tech roles and in a CultureLab podcast said, “We’re brought up to be terrified of failure. And that’s just not good for us… Trust your instinct. Surround yourself with people who support you. And just go for it!”


(9) Sheryl Sandberg

Our next trailblazer is Sheryl Sandberg, an American tech executive who served as the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook from 2008 to 2021. She is also an author, having written the best-selling book Lean In, which encourages women to pursue their ambitions and take on leadership roles. Sheryl places emphasis on women supporting each other to succeed, and is quoted as having said, “When you look at successful women, they have other women who have supported them, and they've gotten to where they are because of those women.”


(10) Dame Stephanie Shirley

A true pioneer, Dame Stephanie Shirley, born Vera Buchthal, founded a software development company in 1962 called Freelance Programmers. She was one of the UK’s first female tech entrepreneurs and her company was staffed predominantly by women. Her firm made a significant contribution to IT in the UK and employed over 8,500 people before she sold it in 1993. She is also known for her philanthropy and activism on behalf of child refugees.


(11) Kimberly Bryant

Founding and becoming CEO of ASCEND Ventures wasn’t enough for Kimberley Bryant, who further changed the face of IT through launching Black Girls CODE. The organisation’s mission is to unlock the potential of girls of colour by providing them with access to education in computer programming.

Kimberley has made impressive advances in her own career as a biotechnology engineer and has held technical leadership positions with Pfizer, Merck, and Genentech to name just a few.


(12) Ada Lovelace

We’re going back quite a way now, but our list wouldn’t be complete without mention of Ada Lovelace. Ada was an English mathematician who is widely considered to be the first computer programmer...but long before the invention of computers! As a child at the age of 12, she wanted to fly and approached the problem methodically through researching birds’ feathers. Later, in 1828, Ada wrote and illustrated a guide called “Flyology,” to record her findings. She went on to work with Charles Babbage on his proposed Analytical Engine and wrote what is now recognised as the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine.

As a result of her work, Ada is now recognised (as the first computer programmer) annually on October 15th to highlight the often-overlooked contributions of women to science and maths.


(13) Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer is a technology executive who’s made her mark at not one, but two of Silicon Valley’s giants! She was one of Google’s very first employees and later served as CEO of Yahoo! from 2012 until 2017. She has been recognised as one of Fortune magazine’s most powerful women multiple times.

Talking about women in the tech sector, Marissa shared, ““People ask me all the time: ‘What is it like to be a woman at Google?’ I’m not a woman at Google, I’m a geek at Google. And being a geek is just great. I’m a geek, I like to code, I even like to use spreadsheets when I cook.”


(14) Rachel Spivey

Tech change agent Rachel Spivey has been with Google for 10+ years. She is the company’s Director of Retention & Progression (Stay & Thrive) and is responsible for keeping retention and progression rates high across the organisation.

Rachel said, “As someone who started at Google and didn’t see many people who look like them at the company at the time […] that is what makes me proud every day to wake up, to go to work, knowing that I’m serving my purpose and helping so many other people through their careers”.

Rachel’s also one of the 135+ black tech operators that form the Black Angel Group, an organisation investing in and supporting tech start-ups across the world. Their mission? “We are more than just a group of investors; we are a community built on a shared belief in the power of ethical, high-growth technology and a commitment to supporting founders from all backgrounds and walks of life.”


(15) Dr. Fei-Fei Li

Last, but by no means least, on our list of influential women in tech, is Dr. Fei-Fei Li. She’s a Chinese-American computer scientist who is a leading expert in artificial intelligence and computer vision. She’s also a Professor and Director at Stanford University’s Human-Centred AI Institute, an advocate for diversity in STEM and well-respected AI thought-leader.

Fei-Fei further co-founded AI4ALL, a non-profit organisation that aims to increase diversity and inclusion in the field of AI. And she is the lead inventor of ImageNet, a collection of 15million photographs organised into an impressive 22,000 categories, by advancing machine vision.


So, there we have it – our list of just some of the many incredible female trailblazers who have made significant contributions to the tech industry. Their accomplishments serve as inspiration for future generations of women in tech, and demonstrate that anything is possible with hard work, determination, and a willingness to break down barriers. 

Are you a woman in tech looking for your next role? Or, perhaps you’re an employer looking to take on talented female tech professionals who can take your company to the next level. Either way, get in touch. Since 2018, 25% of candidates we have placed globally identify as female, and we've actively helped several clients diversify their workforce. The team at Apollo Solutions can make a difference!

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