Women Who Changed The STEM World
This post is a tribute to those women who changed the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) world. Not only did these women become role models for future generations, but they also proved that nothing can stop them to live their dream.
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Why did I choose to write about these women? Here is a little story behind it. One day I had a discussion with my daughter who is aspiring to be an astronomer. She told me how much she admires Katherine Johonson’s work as a mathematician. It strikes me how the young generation looks up to and takes inspiration from these women who changed history and gained much respect in the male dominant world.
I feel so proud to see how the world is witnessing change and growth in all areas with the presence of women. We have come so far since the olden days when women were told to do certain jobs or were not considered fit for some jobs.
Gone are the days when women were supposed to handle household responsibilities and men were responsible for earning money or doing outside chores. Nowadays no field is left untouched by women. And why not? Women can bring a fresh approach and offer unique perspectives to meet challenges, and solve problems. But, still, fields like STEM need more women. It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in the STEM industries with only 20% of tech jobs held by women.
I understand that the tech industry is demanding and sometimes you need to work for long hours to meet deadlines. That’s the main reason women get discouraged or have to leave their jobs or switch careers to take care of their families. But still, many women are shining and becoming role models in this field with the support of their loved ones. Nothing is impossible if you get support and encouragement from others. In fact, many IT companies started the “Back To Work” campaign where women can restart their careers in the tech field after certain years of gap. We need more such campaigns and initiatives to encourage more women to choose STEM careers and receive their valuable contributions to this industry.
One more reason for more women and more diversity in STEM is to provide active role models for future generations. But as I said earlier, there is still a huge gender gap in the fields of science and technology, and it’s not only doing a disservice to women, but to the industry and humanity as a whole.
If this is the current scenario, then think about the days when nobody wanted women in the STEM field and their ideas were not accepted easily. History is full of such examples where women did not get recognized for their research work or ideas. But on the brighter side, there were some women who proved their worth and contributed to this field. Little did they know that they will become an inspiration for many generations of women to come.
Here is a list of 5 women whom I admire a lot for their work and the change they brought to the STEM world.
Born on August 26, 1918, Katherine Johnson was an American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights. During her 33-year career at NASA, she earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform tasks. The space agency noted her “historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist”.
In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour, by President Obama. In 2016, she was presented with the Silver Snoopy Award by NASA astronaut Leland D. Melvin and a NASA Group Achievement Award.
She was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson as a lead character in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. In 2019, Johnson was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress. In 2021, she was inducted posthumously into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
This is a message from her to all women:
Girls are capable of doing everything men are capable of doing. Sometimes they have more imagination than men.
Born on February 10, 1883, Edith Clarke was the first woman to be professionally employed as an electrical engineer in the United States, and the first female professor of electrical engineering in the country.
She was the first woman to deliver a paper at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and the first female engineer whose professional standing was recognized by Tau Beta Pi. She specialized in electrical power system analysis and wrote Circuit Analysis of A-C Power Systems.
Ada is often referred to as the “world’s first computer programmer”. She was the daughter of the romantic poet, Lord Byron. Her mathematical talent shone through in her early life, and her skills and interest in machines lead to a working relationship with Charles Babbage.
Babbage was the inventor of the “Analytical Engine”, a complicated device that was never actually created but resembled the elements of a modern computer. It was Lovelace’s notes on the Analytical Engine that Alan Turing used as a form of inspiration for his work on the first modern computer in the 1940s.
Undeniably famous in the tech world, Rear Admiral Grace M. Hopper was an esteemed computer scientist and one of the first computer programmers to work on the Harvard Mark I.
Her work led to the development of COBOL, an early programming language. In 1947, she recorded the world’s first ever real computer bug.
It is also said that she coined the phrase:
It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.
Hopper is best known for her trailblazing contributions to computer programming, software development, and the design and implementation of programming languages. A maverick and an innovator, she enjoyed long and influential careers in the U.S. Navy and the computer industry.
Hedy is known as the inventor of Wi-Fi. She was a self-taught inventor and film actress. She was awarded a patent in 1942 for her “secret communication system”, designed with the help of the composer George Antheil. This frequency hopping system was intended as a way to set radio-guided torpedos off course during the war, but the idea eventually inspired Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth technology commonly used today.
Although there are many women who made an impact in the tech world with their valuable contributions, there are still long-standing gender gaps in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In fact, women who do pursue these careers are more likely to leave them than men. 91% of women in STEM cited gender discrimination as a career obstacle, and 73% cited sexual harassment as an obstacle in their career trajectory1. The fact that STEM is an unwelcome environment for women is a problem that should be solved for its own sake. Educating, training, and hiring more women in STEM can also lead to better scientific and financial outcomes.
Also, future generations need role models to look up to but industries like STEM still struggling to provide women with a welcoming environment to work and grow.
Psychologist Penelope Lockwood said:
Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success, illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them. They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable.
This blog post is a part of the Women’s Day blog hop, themed on She: A Tribute to Her, hosted by Swarnali Nath.