Hidden Figures Who Encourage Future Generations

Yesterday, I was sitting in the final plenary of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Summit 2017 in Tucson, AZ. If you aren’t familiar with NCWIT – it is a community of nearly 900 universities, companies, non-profits, and government organizations nationwide working to increase girls’ and women’s meaningful participation in computing. NCWIT was chartered in 2004 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and equips change leaders with resources for recruiting, retaining, and advancing women from K–12 and higher education through industry and entrepreneurial careers. These people are our tribe and we’re proud to be a partner and part of the NCWIT K-12 Alliance. Lucy Sanders, their CEO and Co-Founder, and the organization have been a force and source of encouragement for Couragion’s founders for nearly two decades. In 2016, Couragion was proud to win startup of the year at the same awards ceremony where Lucy won a well-deserved lifetime achievement award.

Margot Lee Shetterly who is the researcher, entrepreneur, and the author of “Hidden Figures" was the seminal keynote. She spoke about race, gender, science, and the history of technology. Margot talked about creating the lexicon for ‘hidden figures’ as people who have contributed, were not previously acknowledged, and now deserve to be celebrated. The term as discussed is nuanced as the identities of these women were hidden as were their contributions. Margot’s commitment was in elucidating these talented woman as individuals but she also strove to intimately understand the science and technology behind their stories. It moved me and further edified Couragion’s own journey. We’ve told the stories of over 40 female STEM professionals as part of our NSF work. We’ve respected each personal journey, their vulnerability and confidence, and the paths these role models have taken.

Allison Schroeder, the screenwriter of “Hidden Figures”, was honored at the Summit right after Margot’s speech. Allison won the Reel WiT Award - an honor created by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Google, and NCWIT. She herself is a notable STEM role model who studied math at Stanford University. Allison shared a fantastic story in her acceptance speech about one of her friend’s young daughters who recently saw three young African American females walking down the street and said, “Look Mommy, astronauts!” These narratives are rarely told – and when done with this type of clarity and honor can encourage future generations. I aspire that our work continues to make a difference in classrooms and in the lives of all the students we reach and influence.  

You can continue to contribute to the conversation by leveraging NCWIT resources for recruiting, retaining, and advancing girls and women in computing. Special thanks to the incredible staff and sponsors for the Summit!