What would you have chosen, if you could, Ada?

Let’s champion developing the self-confidence and self-knowledge to make choices, not channel people into particular choices. 

Ada Lovelace’s mother steered her daughter toward science and logic in a deliberate effort to prevent Ada replicating her father Lord Bryon’s notorious ‘poetic’ temperament. And she excelled. But would that have been her choice?  Indeed can we really assume that without nurture Ada’s nature would have taken her toward the ‘dangerous’ arts?

Today society steers our daughters equally hard toward STEM subjects.  What’s our motivation for this social engineering?  Surely we should focus on creating the conditions in which females can make a balanced objective decision without the pressures of social engineering at one end of the spectrum and confinement to social stereotype at the other?  Let’s not presume to know for our women, as Ada’s mother appears to have done, albeit with good intent.

How do we know that females even want to be better represented in STEM?  Science subjects make up a growing proportion of total undergraduate study.  And an increasing proportion of female undergrads (42%) now take science-related subjects.  Yet 2017 statistics report women still dominate Medicine, Vet Science and Education studies (representing 80%, 77% and 74% of students on those courses), whereas male students dominate Engineering & technology, Computer science and Mathematical sciences, at 81%, 81% and 62% respectively.

For today’s young women let’s champion developing the self-confidence and self-knowledge to make choices.  Let’s be careful not to channel people into particular choices.

We all need freedom to be who we truly are. And remarkable though Ada Lovelace’s achievements were, I can’t help wondering what her poems might have been like.

Note: This opinion piece was first published by Catalyst prior to the Sionic merger

About the author

Sue Primmer

Chief marketing officer

Communications is a profession that never stands still. For me, it’s about getting to the heart of the business, the people, the story.