Women in security – International Women's Day 2023
Tomorrow marks International Women’s Day, a national day focused on celebrating the achievements of women and seeking gender equality. The security environment has seen an array of women who have made significant contributions throughout history. From becoming ‘human computers’ to WW2 intelligence officers at Bletchley Park.
The word ‘computer,’ coined in 1613, was first used for humans who performed computation. Nicole-Reine Lepaute helped predict Halley’s Comet’s return in 1758. A century later, Maria Mitchell plotted the planet Venus’s motion, earning an astronomy professorship.
Bletchley Park Codebreakers
As the codebreaking process became more mechanised, and the volume of intercepts grew, many more staff were recruited. A significant proportion of these were recruited from the Women’s Services; the WRNS, the ATS and the WAAF. By 1945, 75% of the staff of Bletchley Park were women, and of these six out of ten were in uniform.
Some of the key figures within this period included women such as Joan Clarke, Mavis Batey and Margaret Rock.
Joan Clarke was recruited to join the ‘Government Code and Cypher School’ at Bletchley Park, and in 1940 agreed to start work at Bletchley where she helped to successfully break the complex Naval Enigma code. Her mathematical expertise on the Naval Enigma helped to shorten the war and thereby save thousands of lives.
Mavis Batey was recruited to work at Bletchley as a codebreaker. Batey helped to effectively break the Italian Naval Enigma machine. She also helped to work out the wiring of the Abwehr Enigma, an Enigma machine previously thought to be unbreakable.
Margaret Rock was also recruited to work at Bletchley as a codebreaker. She worked alongside mathematicians and professors to break and decode enemy messages with the Enigma machine. This achievement gave an advantage to Britain to plan D-Day.