Women have played a significant role in many of the world’s most impactful developments in engineering, math, technology, and science, dating all the way back to Roman times. Their influence was borne from a deep passion for the work, and a fierce insistence on leaving their mark on the world, acknowledged or not. They struggled against stereotypes, social stigma, and discredit to bring us some of the most innovative and beautiful projects. I think about Emily Warren Roebling, the wife of famed Brooklyn Bridge engineer Washington A. Roebling. She stepped in, petticoat and all, when Washington fell ill to manage the bridge’s construction. Or Catherine Anselm Gleason. This 19th century pioneer taught herself mechanical engineering before women were allowed to enroll in engineering college by watching her father, eventually taking over his business and growing it into one of the world’s leading providers of machine technologies that produce gears used in airplanes, wind turbines, and power tools. Then there’s modern-day artist, the late Zaha Hadid, a brilliant architect who faced constant discrimination early in her career but battled through it to become the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
I want to believe that we have come a long way from the battle these women fought to pursue their passion, but there remains a severe lack of women in STEM careers even today, and as a result, we are doing the next generation of potential women engineers and scientists a disservice.
It has been proven over and over again that strong role models are critical to closing the gender gap, in STEM and in other traditionally-male dominated professions.
A recent study by MIT economist Esther Duflo showed that when compared to villages with only male leaders, in areas of India with long-serving female leaders, the gender gap in education goals disappeared, as girls and their parents alike were more likely to set high goals as a result of believing that women are just as capable as their male counterparts to achieve.
To encourage more girls to commit their intelligence, creativity, and passion to STEM careers, we need to bring the accomplishments of those who have come before, both past and present, to the light, and celebrate them as they deserve.
That’s why I love Women’s Month so much – it takes me back to my early days, when I was building with LEGOs and dreaming about all that I could be, unhindered and undeterred. It’s 31 days dedicated to acknowledging the boldness, brilliance, and general badass-ness of females. I am lucky to work with countless stellar women, but each of us understands the power, and responsibility, we have to set the stage for those who come behind us.
To all those women whose work went unrecognized – the Roebling’s, Gleason’s, and Hadid’s – thank you. May we all strive to be as fierce as you.
‘Til next time,