Some amazing women showed us how things should be done.
Being involved in Women In Technology (WIT) programs, support groups, and special events has meant much to me over the years. Whether it has been as an attendee or an organizer, I’ve always found much value in learning from other women about their progress in a field that can often feel gender lonely. The goal for any of these groups or events is to encourage women in technology fields, to grow their knowledge and skill sets, and to bring awareness and brainstorm solutions to issues that block progress. Many times, we’ve felt as if we were pioneers – often blazing the trail for women everywhere! A recent trip to the movies, followed by a good read, taught me otherwise. That some amazing women did that long ago against much greater barriers than I’ve ever experienced.
Like many others, I was anxiously awaiting “Hidden Figures” when it hit movie theaters and went to see it in early January. The movie captivated me for many reasons, first because of the compelling storyline of women who achieved so much, and helped our country achieve huge goals, despite living in a segregated world that made everyday life something that had to be much more painful and frustrating than the movie could ever portray. As someone who works in technology, it was so interesting to learn about “human computers” and to get a glimpse of the changeover to the IBM computer at NASA. But as the movie evolved, it hit me that what we were seeing onscreen were some of the very first WIT meetings! The human computer teams were meeting together to learn new technologies, to share ideas, and to figure out how to support each other as the world around them changed – so that they would be ready for the next set of challenges.
As I left the theater, I knew that I needed to learn more about this story. So I downloaded the book, because we all know the book is always better than the movie and this one did not disappoint. (Topic of a future post!) I can tell you that this book should be required reading for every technology program. Because the book details a history of women who not only worked hard to improve areas at NASA for human computing, computer science, and women, but also for engineering, for their male colleagues, for management, and for human resources. In some cases, they gave up their own promotions in order to take a position that allowed them to provide better opportunities for others in the organization. They were also instrumental outside in their communities for girl scouts, for churches, for colleges, for schools, and everywhere they saw a need. Reading the book makes you realize that the movie is just a small tribute to the magnitude of what these women accomplished in their lifetimes.
These women went beyond holding meetings and giving talks to living out and doing what needed to be done. They saw things that required change and they made it happen. They worked extremely hard and remembered that someone else would probably need help getting in the door so they looked outside and held it open. They understood discrimination personally and were willing to help others who didn’t look like them. There is much we can learn from them, if we take the time to hear their story. I’m very thankful that it is no longer hidden.