Better Numbers Up Ahead? No Longer Hidden Women Leaders in STEM

The success of the film, "HIdden Figures," is prompting an increase in interest in STEM education for girls and women.

The success of the film, "HIdden Figures," is prompting an increase in interest in STEM education for girls and women.

What pretend princesses have done for generations to create the success of Disney movies, real women in STEM perhaps have done for the latest box office surge of $84.4 million in ticket sales for the newly Oscar-nominated film, “Hidden Figures.”Or have they?The story of the African American STEM champion pioneers at NASA, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who were integral in the American space program, has won celebrated at the recent Screen Actors Guild Awards and recently inspired a surge of interest in girls and young women of all colors to enter into the STEM fields and become leaders.In Seattle, nearly 200 girls and young women from fifth through 12th grade attended a screening of the movie and an informational session on careers in STEM.[bctt tweet=“Hidden Figures, is prompting an increased interest in STEM for girls and women #womeninSTEM” username=“takeleadwomen”]“The event was sponsored by Techbridge, an organization that aims to inspire the next generation of innovators and leaders in fields of technology, science, and engineering. The organization has worked with pre-teen and teenage girls that attend low-income schools in the Seattle area for more than two years, KOMO News reports.”“They are learning women can do anything and we already have,” said Callista Chen, executive director of greater Seattle Techbridge.Yet, a surprising New York University study published last week in Science shows that girls as young as six years old defer to boys and think women are not as smart as men. Looking at photographs of both men and women, girls choose the photos of men to pick someone who is “brilliant.”“As a result, believing that they are not as gifted as boys, girls tend to shy away from demanding majors and fields, leading to big differences in aspirations and career choices between men and women,” according to Fortune. “These stereotypes discourage women’s pursuit of many prestigious careers; that is, women are underrepresented in fields whose members cherish brilliance,” the study’s authors wrote.But as the film, “Hidden Figures,” gathers more official and unofficial accolades, the production of the film is inspiring and acknowledging more women leaders and writers in Hollywood. Along with Academy Award nominations for best picture and best supporting actress, “Hidden Figures” earned a best adapted screenplay nomination for writer Allison Schroeder and her co-writer, director Theodore Melfi.Amy Kaufman writes in Los Angeles Times about Schroeder, who was interested in STEM at an early age. “When she was in kindergarten, she completed a science project and was so eager to find out how she’d fared that she peeked through the window of her classroom early. There, she saw her project anointed with a first-place ribbon. But the next day, she found the prize had been downgraded to an honorable mention because they’d found out her age and thought she must have gotten help from her parents,” Kaufman writes.It wasn’t true.As the only woman to be nominated at the Writers Guild Awards this year, Schroeder tells Kaufman, “I think a lot of times people look at me and say, ‘Well, we can’t possibly hand a show over to her to run. It seemed like executives would be worried about me controlling a room and having power, and I’d say, ‘Oh, I can control a room. I can give an order like nobody’s business.’ I think there’s an unconscious bias, and it gets a little disheartening after a while.”The lack of parity in STEM education and in STEM careers has been a focus for many organizations, trying to encourage more women leaders in STEM fields.“According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of women leaders in IT roles has actually declined slightly: In 2014, women made up 24.1 percent of the IT workforce, but in 2015, it had dipped to 23.7 percent,” writes Sandy Shirai,vice chairman at Deloitte LLP and leader of Deloitte’s U.S. Technology, Media & Telecommunications industry practice in Fortune.“And while 2016 figures are not yet in, Deloitte predicts the percentage of women in IT will remain below 25 percent. Nevertheless, many companies in STEM-focused industries are striving to become more diverse in terms of both their workforce and their leadership ranks, making this a huge opportunity for women with STEM degrees,” Shirai writes.“Every leader—male or female—in the coming decade will need a baseline level of STEM literacy because so many of the decisions they will be faced with will involve technology in some fashion. Take your pick—social media, robotics, data analytics, or cybersecurity—all of these are creeping into day-to-day business decision making, and if you’re not literate in STEM, you may find yourself disadvantaged,” Shirai writes.Recently “at the 2017 APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference at Princeton University, Yale University Professor of astrophysics Meg Urry told more than 200 students attending that she is still often the only woman in the room even though her department now has six out of 52 female faculty members — the highest number of the top 50 physics departments in the United States,” writes Jeanne Jackson DeVoe, of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory  in Princeton News.“That’s crazy, right? If we were offered the same opportunities and had the same treatment, women would be half the faculty in every subject,” Urry told DeVoe.“Urry, whose research focuses on active galaxies that host supermassive black holes in their centers, was one of the plenary speakers at the conference, which focused on giving young women the tools to stay in physics and other STEM fields,” DeVoe writes.“Women in physics and other fields are affected by unconscious bias, Urry said. She cited one study that found participants who were given the resumes of equally qualified men and women were more likely to pick resumes with men’s names,” according to DeVoe.Sue Schade, Principal in StarBridge Advisors, writes in Healthcare IT News that many women leaders who enter into healthcare information technology careers got a start early with STEM education.“Stephanie Reel is the Chief Information Officer and Vice Provost for Information Technology for the Johns Hopkins University, and Vice President for Information Services for Johns Hopkins Medicine and has a bigger and broader role than the average healthcare CIO,” Schade writes.Reel is a strong advocate for building a healthy work environment. “We need to be kinder and gentler, and we should never allow ourselves to be bullied, or made to feel inadequate,” She told Schade.Pat Skarulis, Vice President and CIO at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, advised: “Take as much math and science as you can early in your academic career.”“Pam McNutt, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Methodist Health System, remembered the advice from her parents. ‘Don’t focus on the differences between men and women, just do your best and show value.’”Shirai at DeLoitte added that a STEM education is great for women leaders in many different fields, even those outside STEM.[bctt tweet=“STEM education is great for women leaders in many fields, even those outside STEM #womenleaders” username=“takeleadwomen”]“Of course, if you don’t have a formal degree in STEM, this certainly doesn’t mean the door to leadership opportunities is closed. There are other ways for female executives—or any executive for that matter—to hone their STEM chops and achieve STEM literacy—reading broadly, finding a STEM mentor, taking an online class, or generally keeping up with technology developments, just to name a few. The point is, STEM will continue to grow in importance, and gaining a high level of comfort with it can only serve as an accelerator to your career,” Shirai writes.So many leadership lessons are hidden in the movie, “Hidden Figures,”  Paolo Gaudiano and Ellen Hunt , write in Forbes:“The entire movie sends a clear message: when it comes to driving for success, neither skin color nor gender should matter. The only thing that can make a difference is performance. And it is the performance of individuals like Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan and countless other African American women, that began to pave the way for greater equality in the workplace.”In a profile of Goble in Vanity Fair, author Charles Bolden writes: “With a slide rule and a pencil, Katherine advanced the cause of human rights and the frontier of human achievement at the same time. Having graduated from high school at 14 and college at 18 at a time when African-Americans often did not go beyond the eighth grade, she used her amazing facility with geometry to calculate Alan Shepard’s flight path and took the Apollo 11 crew to the moon to orbit it, land on it, and return safely to Earth.”