IBM Apologises For Firing A Computing Pioneer For Being Transgender 52 Years Ago
Computing Pioneer Lynn Conway has had an incredible career that lay down the groundwork for smartphones and computers as we know them. However, 52 years ago Conway was fired from IBM for being transgender.
Lynn Conway is a professor at the University of Michigan who is responsible for significant computing progress. Few would dispute that the work of Conway, that includes Very Large Scale Integrated (VLSI) chip systems that are the foundation of many Silicon Valley companies, has been important in the computing sector.
Despite this, IBM took a very different view in 1968 when they fired her for reasons that are illegal today.
In 1968 Conway was fired from the IBM research department because she was undergoing gender transition. Despite support from her immediate superiors and team, the medical director informed CEO Thomas J. Watson, Jr. of the news and she was fired immediately. As a result of being fired, Conway struggled to support their family. The situation then worsened when California’s Social Services threatened a restraining order if she attempted to see her children post-divorce.
Conway overcame this adversity and became a computer architect at Memorex Corporation, before moving to Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). In the 70s and 80s, Conway pioneered new technology and theory with her work on VLSI Systems that underpin current microprocessor chip design. To honour the legacy of this pioneer, IBM has now offered a formal apology for the events that took place in the 60s.
In later years Conway has been a transgender activist and has been hailed as a visionary in the computing world. Finally, IBM has acknowledged the precious mistakes of the company and in a web-based event entitled ‘Tech Trailblazer and Transgender Pioneer Lynn Conway in conversation with Diane Gherson’ 1,200 people saw Conway finally receive an apology.
Reports claim that the apology was heartfelt and Conway has said she ‘struggled to hold back tears.’ Lynn Conway has undoubtedly had an incredible life and will have a lasting legacy, and many will be pleased that IBM has addressed an injustice which has been a mark on the companies history.
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