There’s been an unfortunate stereotype that has plagued the science community for a very long time: the notion that science related career fields are nothing more than one big, boy’s only club. This stereotype likely started during a time when traditional gender roles played a large part in our society, but unfortunately as these traditional roles have diminished from common practice, these stereotypes continue to live on.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, women make up 48% of the American workforce but only make up a mere 24% of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) jobs here in the U.S. These statistics have created a massive nationwide movement to breakdown this boy’s club mentality – a movement that has become so large it’s even caught the eye of President Barack Obama.
“One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent…not being encouraged the way they need to,” said Obama.
Also, as part of this movement, an international celebration for the achievements of women in STEM was created known as Ada Lovelace Day, which is held annually on Oct. 13th. To celebrate this day, we’ve compiled a list of 10 extraordinary women who’ve made an impact on the STEM community.
1. Ada Lovelace
We couldn’t make this list without putting Ada on it, after all this day is named after her. Born in 1815 to Baron George Gordon Byron and Anne Isabella Byron, Ada would grow up to be a Mathematician and writer who was best known for her work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine – an early mechanical general-purpose computer. Her work is credited as being the first algorithm to be carried out by a machine and is thus regarded as being the world’s first computer programmer. (Source: findingada.com)
2. Margaret Hamilton
Margaret Hamilton got a job at MIT as a programmer to help pay the bills while her husband who was completing his law degree at Harvard. After he graduated, she planned on going back to school to get a graduate degree in mathematics. But before she could make that happen, the space race with Russia took off and the MIT Instrumentation Lab, where Hamilton worked, got the nod to invent the system that would take Apollo astronauts to the moon. It was during this time that Hamilton wrote the code for the world’s first portable computer and created the core ideas that would become modern computer programming. (Source: wired.com)
3. Antonia Coello Novello
Due to a childhood that was plagued with hospital visits and surgeries, a young Antonia decided that she wanted to grow up to become a doctor so that she could help other sick children. She earned her M.D. from the University of Puerto Rico and worked several years in pediatrics before joining the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps in 1978. Novello has several achievements under her belt, including to help draft the Organ Transplantation Procurement Act of 1984, the expedited FDA approval process of vaccines for veterans during the Gulf War, and her campaign against the tobacco industry’s advertising aimed at children, especially against the cartoon character “Joe Camel.” However, possibly her greatest achievement was her appointment to Surgeon General of the United States by former president George H.W. Bush. This appointment made her the first female and first Hispanic to hold this office in the country’s history. (Source: nlm/nih.gov)
4. Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg is an American Technology Executive who has made major strides in breaking down the previously mentioned stereotype of women in the tech workplace. After a short stint working as a management consultant, Sandberg began working for Larry Summers, who was serving as Former President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury. It was under Secretary Summers that she helped work on forgiving the debts in the developing world during the Asian financial crisis. In 2001, she joined internet giant Google as the vice president of global online sales and operations where it was her responsibility to manage Google’s advertising and publishing products. However, it’s arguably her appointment as Facebook COO in 2008 that makes her such a valuable member of the STEM community. It was because of Sandberg and her experience in advertising that Facebook transformed from a simple social media site to a profitable multi-billion dollar enterprise. (Source: New York Times)
5. Esther Conwell
Esther Conwell was a professor of chemistry and physics at the University of Rochester who began her career when very few women were entering the science fields. During her career she received several commendations, including a spot on Discover Magazine’s 50 Most Important Women of Science in 2002. She earned that recognition through her research on how electrons move through silicon and other semiconducting materials. Her research was pivotal in jump starting the computer age. (Source: Rochester.edu)
6. Megan Smith
Megan Smith holds one of the highest ranking technology positions in the United States – the Chief Technology Officer of the United States. This position was created by President Barack Obama and her primary role is using applied technology to help create jobs, reduce the costs of health care, and help keep the United States secure from threats. Prior to this prestigious role, Smith served as vice president of Google X, a semi-secret facility run by Google which is dedicated to the research and development of technological advancement. (Source: whitehouse.gov)
7. Emmy Noether
Emmy Noether was a German mathematician who is known for her contribution to abstract algebra and theoretical physics. More specifically, she is known for her theories of rings, fields, and algebras as well as her theorem which explains the connection between symmetry and conservation laws. Besides the amazing mathematical and scientific work she did, one thing that made Noether stand out was her perseverance – living in Germany at a time of severe political unrest and very few women’s rights, including having to work for several years without getting paid, Noether was able to overcome it all and make a name for herself. (Source: agnesscott.edu)
8. Bessie Blount
Bessie Blount was a pioneer in assistive technologies and forensic science as well as a role model for women and African Americans during a time when both demographics had limited status in the United States. Blount attended the Panzar College of Physical Education to become a physical therapist. After World War II, she worked with veterans who returned home as amputees and taught them new ways to perform basic tasks with their limited use of appendages. One of the issues she helped them overcome was their inability to feed themselves. To solve this, she invented a device that delivered individual bites of food to the patient at his or her own pace. (Source: lemelson.mit.edu)
9. Caterina Fake
Caterina Fake is an American Entrepreneur and business woman who co-founded the hugely popular photo sharing site, Flickr which became a cornerstone for the co-called Web 2.0 websites which integrate features such as social networking and tagging. Flickr was acquired by Yahoo! in 2005, after which she took a job at Yahoo! running the Technology Development Group. (Source: Caterina.net)
10. Lucy Bradshaw
Lucy Bradshaw is a pioneer in the video game industry. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at the University of Michigan before moving to California and working on video game production. Some of her previous experience includes work at LucasArts and Activision before becoming the general manager of the Maxis label of Electronic Arts. At Maxis she worked on blockbuster titles such as SimCity, the Sims, and Spore. (Source: sims.wikia.com)
Obviously, this is just a small snippet of all the amazing women who have had a positive impact on the STEM field and the world, but what this list does do is show that women have played crucial roles in the development of the world around us and that STEM is no longer just a boys only club.