IBM Women in technology. From plugboards to petaflops: The evolving role of women at IBM
13/03/2006
"If the bringing of women - half the human race - into the center of historical inquiry poses a formidable challenge to historical scholarship, it also offers sustaining energy and a source of strength." Gerder Lerner, 1982

At IBM women have been making contributions to the advancement of information technology for almost as long as the company has been in existence. Where many companies proudly date their affirmative action programs to the 1970s, IBM has been creating meaningful roles for female employees since the 1930s.

This tradition was not the result of a happy accident. Instead, it was a deliberate and calculated initiative on the part of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., IBM's legendary leader. Watson discerned the value women could bring to the business equation, and he mandated that his company hire and train women to sell and service IBM products.

Soon IBM had so many women professionals in its ranks that the company formed a Women's Education Division. Those early pioneers may not have realized it then, but block by block they laid the foundation for a tradition that lasts to this day.

The tens of thousands of women who have been IBM employees since the 1930s have built upon that foundation, for women now comprise more than 30 percent of the total U.S. employee population. But of even greater significance is the impact they've had on the information technology industry. That impact has no doubt been farther reaching and more enduring than even a visionary like Watson could have imagined seven decades ago.

This rich IBM Heritage is showcased in the WIT Timeline. Meet some of IBM's leading female technologists in the WIT Personas pages, where you can find their individual success stories and images.

Exhibit recalls women who made their mark in IT

At IBM, women have been making contributions to the advancement of information technology for almost as long as the company has existed. While many companies proudly date their affirmative action programs to the 1970s, IBM has been creating meaningful roles for female employees since the 1930s. That’s when IBM founder Thomas Watson, Sr. launched a program to recruit college-educated women, and vowed: "Men and women will do the same kind of work for equal pay. They will have the same treatment, the same responsibilities and the same opportunity for advancement."

Now, women comprise more than 30 percent of the total U.S. employee population. And they account for 24 percent of management; and 19 percent of the company’s executive management. IBM appointed its first woman vice president in 1943, a first in corporate America.

These milestones – and the women who reached them – are featured in IBM Women in Technology, an exhibit in the company’s online archives. There are also profiles of the women running IBM today and timelines showing the advancement of women in the country for the last century.