How Women in STEM Are Shifting the Needle and Overcoming Stereotypes

Mar 13, 2024 | Uncategorized

In every nook and cranny of history, there are women who left a significant impact in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Although women in STEM have proven to be revolutionary leaders in their respective fields, the overwhelming prevailing gender biases that still persist have stifled some of their achievements. In spite of the bias, there has been a seismic shift that is redirecting the spotlight towards the remarkable achievements of women in STEM. These are some of the women who have prevailed against societal odds and gone on to excel in a field that is often considered demanding and male-dominated.

Pioneers of the Past:

The journey of women in STEM began a long time ago, with icons who rejected the status quo and decided to make a mark for themselves and inspire others to do the same. One of the early trailblazers was Mary Jackson, an African-American mathematician and aerospace engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Despite facing racial segregation and gender bias, Mary’s aeronautical research played a significant role in advancing space exploration. Her story inspired the movie “Hidden Figures,” which has become a poignant reminder of the resilience and legacy of BIPOC women in STEM careers. Similarly, Katherine Goble Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan chose to push beyond the confines of society’s expectations and become professional leaders in their fields. Their academic pursuits and intellectual prowess led them to create a legacy at NASA that transformed the way the organization operated. Johnson’s intellectual depth, for example, was invaluable in the success of crucial space missions, including Alan Shepard’s historic journey as the first American in space and the trajectory calculations for the Apollo moon landing. Vaughan’s leadership and foresight also became a turning point in history, instrumental in propelling her team —and by extension—NASA, into the age of electronic computing.

Pioneers of the Present and Future:

Recognizing the importance of representation has led to a significant number of BIPOC women in STEM dedicating themselves to empowering and inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers. Our founder, Dr. Keli Christopher, is a prime example of a leader who has taken on the role of pouring into young minds who are curious about the world around them and have endless possibilities. Dr. Christopher’s legacy extends back to her family, who were actively engaged in and involved in the civil rights revolution. She became the first Black person to earn a Ph.D. in agricultural engineering from the University of Illinois and the third Black woman worldwide to hold a Ph.D. in the field. Establishing The STEM Greenhouse in 2014 was really par for the course because it helped her pass on the love of STEM to the next generation of science and tech scholars. Hadiyah-Nicole Green, a physicist and cancer researcher, is another example of commitment to STEM. As an advocate for diversity in STEM, she has actively encouraged young girls, particularly those from underrepresented communities, to pursue careers in science.

Overcoming Obstacles and Forging Ahead

Although BIPOC women in STEM have shattered the glass ceiling in terms of success and achievements, they continue to face unique challenges that give them the shorter end of the stick in terms of career advancement and recognition. Systemic biases and stereotypes that perpetuate the underrepresentation of women in these fields also serve to be oppressive in the long run. Regardless of the harmful stereotypes that exist within society, countless individuals have risen above these obstacles, proving that talent and determination know no boundaries. Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel to space, became an icon of inspiration herself, inspiring generations of young women to fearlessly pursue careers in STEM. In the same vein, Dr. Ellen Ochoa, who made her mark as the first Hispanic woman to travel to space, has made significant contributions to the field of optics and is a role model for aspiring Latina scientists. As a former astronaut and director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, her reputation has preceded her.

Even though there is research to support the idea that women equally excel in STEM-related careers, the numbers also show that there is a staggering gender gap. For example, a 2021 study showed that 65% of STEM workers were men and 35% were women, and although times are changing, this gaping disconnect continues to exist. Regardless, there is hope for the future. Organizations like WiSTEM are pushing forward efforts that are helping to inspire young girls to know that they too can create meaningful careers in STEM, regardless of their backgrounds or the systemic challenges that they face. As we celebrate the pioneers of the present, it is equally important to recognize the rising stars who are shaping the future of STEM. Initiatives like Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, and various mentorship programs are empowering young girls and women to pursue STEM careers. These organizations are not only pushing girls towards STEM; they are fostering inclusivity and providing opportunities for education and mentorship, all while sowing the seeds for a future where women continue to thrive and lead the charge in STEM fields. Although the numbers might be bleak, there are many more success stories to prove that there is teeming hope. Here is to all the powerful women in STEM who are leaving behind a thriving legacy.

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