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Recognising LGBT+ History Month: Lynn Conway

Image: Lynn Conway, Charles Rogers, July 2006

Posted on: 21 February 2023

Members of the LGBT+ community have played an important role in shaping our culture, history, and progress. LGBT+ History Month serves as an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of individuals from the LGBT+ community who have made a significant impact on our society. 

In this blog, we focus on former IBM computer scientist Lynn Conway who provided significant contributions to microchip technology.

The impact of Conway’s work is no small feat, as discussed by Christine Burns MBE, activist and author of Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows: “Her (Lynn) life's work has made the fact that we're having this conversation on tiny little computers possible.” 

Lynn provided innovative work as a computer scientist in the 60s. At IBM, Lynn worked on some of the first microchips but was fired when IBM found out Lynn was transgender and planned to transition to female. 

After being sacked, Lynn was forced to start her career again. She was alone after losing family and friends and went abroad to complete her transition as a female. 

Thankfully, she was able to make a fresh start and began a booming career advancing in companies such as Memorex and Xerox.

Later, Conway thrived as a university professor and enjoyed a fulfilling professional and personal life. Her early, seminal work on microchips was later tracked down to her, and Conway who previously feared being ‘outed’ as a trans person decided to go public in hopes to help other people. 

IBM finally issued an apology in 2020 due to her mistreatment at its company decades ago.

Lynn’s story is one of perseverance, tenacity and resilience. The LGBT+ community is often under intense scrutiny and discrimination. Workforces should be safe spaces for people from all communities.

Taking the time to learn about people from all communities can expand our understanding and create a more inclusive community for all. 

Written by Nicholas Percival, Deputy Director of Human Resources, February 2023.