LGBT History Month: The story of Lynn Conway | Harnham Recruitment post

One of the world’s pioneering computer scientists, Lynn Conway’s innovation plays an integral part in our technology usage today. In 1964, Lynn was recruited by IBM to begin working on the company’s Advanced Computer Systems project.Here, she built the foundation of what many of us know and use today in the shape of smartphones and computer systems. However, despite her incredible work and illustrious knowledge, Lynn’s professional relationship with IBM ended abruptly only four years after joining.WHAT HAPPENED AT IBM?While at IBM, Lynn worked as a man – her gender assigned at birth – Robert Sanders (a pseudonym). However, after suffering since childhood with gender dysphoria and subsequent severe depression later in life, Lynn sought out help from Harry Benjamin.Harry was undertaking pioneering research in the treatment of transsexual women and helped others undergo medical gender reassignment surgery. Lynn was finally on the path to being able to be her true self. However, upon learning about her intention to transition, she was fired by IBM in 1968.52 years later, in 2020, IBM apologised for the hardship Lynn was subjected to during her transition. Diane Gherson, an IBM Senior Vice President for Human Affairs said:“I wanted to say to you here today, Lynn, for that experience in our company and all the hardships that followed, I am truly sorry.“Thanks to your courage, your example, and all the people who followed in your footsteps, as a society we are now in a better place. But that doesn’t help you, Lynn, probably our very first employee to come out. And for that, we deeply regret what you went through — and know I speak for all of us.”POST-TRANSITIONIn 1968, Lynn’s transition was complete. However, during her next role as a contract programmer, she worked in what she dubbed as ‘stealth mode’. Lynn aimed to keep her transition a secret. The fear of losing her job again, or not being accepted, was too great and so she continued to work this way for 30 years, presenting as a cis gender woman. Alongside her work, Lynn also battled with very personal problems. Upon transition, her wife with whom she had children while living as Robert Sanders, barred her from contact with her daughters. It would be over a decade until they were reunited.Throughout these three decades, Lynn went on to be a vital part of the most innovative teams in the world and create technology that would defy possibility in its time. From the build of Multi-project Wafers at PARC to the co-authoring of the disruptive book ‘Introduction to VLSI Systems’.It wouldn’t be until 1999 that she began coming out to friends and colleagues. This aligned with new information that IBM were researching a project she had been involved with during her time with the company and may potentially begin to unearth her past. Here, she took matters into her own hands and wrote online entries about her experience as a transgender woman in the computer engineering space.In 2013, Lynn was honoured with a 24-page memoir in the IEEE Solid State Circuits about her ground-breaking technological work. In the following year, the IEEE included transgender inclusion into its Code of Ethics.Lynn Conway will forever be a notable figure in the field of technology and computing, but also for the LGBT+ community. Her bravery, and her story, helped countless of other transgender individuals. She broke down walls that had seemingly been cemented up for good and played an integral part in breaking the glass ceiling for the LGBT+ community.“If you want to change the future, start living as if you’re already there.” – Lynn Conway for HuffPost.

Posted in