In the words of Miss Jennifer Lopez:
"You gotta do it, you gotta do it your way
You gotta prove it
You gotta mean what you say...
Let's get loud..."
I'm a millennial. You can tell because I'm quoting Jennifer Lopez. I was born in the mid 90s, Many years after majority of women worldwide gained the right to vote. Many years after Rosa parks rode the bus. Many years after Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson did the calculations that guided NASA’s 1962 Friendship 7 Mission.
You get the point. There have been many influential women before my generation, there are many of them right now and I know there are many more to come.
Women as a whole have come a very long way and more particularly within the STEM industry and we need to be proud of our accomplishments.
Our work speak for us yet we tend to stay out of the spotlight in comparison to our male counterparts.
I mention Katherine Johnson and her friends above because I want to believe that just like myself, many other young women in the industry today probably had no idea that they existed or how amazing they were until the movie Hidden Figures was released in December 2016. "Based on the biography by Margot Lee Shetterly, Theodore Melfi’s “Hidden Figures” is a story of empowerment, perseverance and bravery".
I was in my final year of computer science at university and I remember thinking that I wish I knew about them at an earlier stage in my life. As a young black woman, their story resonated with me. It's unfortunate that their story was ignored until recently. Fast forward a few years, I am now fully immersed in the professional world and I see that women are still facing the same hardships and complexities of being in the industry, racial segregation and sex discrimination aside.
According to the Hidden Figure movie and book, Katherine Johnson's colleagues were initially demeaning and dismissive. Raise your hands if you're a millennial woman in STEM and have experienced this. I'm sure she and other women must have experienced mansplaining*. Raise your hands if you're a millennial woman in STEM and have experienced this. Katherine Johnson was brilliant and proved her worth. Raise your hands if you're a woman in STEM and are constantly having to work twice as hard to prove yourself. Let's bring race into this for a second; Raise your hands if you're a woman of colour or an ethnic minority in the industry and you always have to make the conscious effort to work twice as hard in comparison to your fellow (white) colleagues and yet it seems that no matter how talented and skilled you are, you're still shut out of promotions and meetings and elite programs and institutions.
An article in The Atlantic stated: "A 2015 study found 100 percent of women of colour in STEM fields report experiencing gender bias at work, an effect often influenced by their race. Black and Latina women, for example, reported being mistaken for janitors (a scene that, fittingly, takes place in Hidden Figures)".
These parallels are too obvious to ignore. It is important to note however that Katherine Johnson was not alone. She had her friends. They were a team, a community and they lifted each other up. As women in this industry, I think we need to do more of that and just like Katherine Johnson and her friend did, we have to persevere.
So you know what? Let's get loud about our accomplishments. Let's get loud about our talents. Let's get loud about our skills. Let's do it our way.
*Mansplaining: the explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.
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