March is Women's History Month, a time of year dedicated to celebrating the women trailblazers who have paved the way for women in various industries. Women within the STEM arena, the spacious space of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics have faced numerous barriers and challenges throughout history. However, by highlighting the amazing accomplishments of women pioneers in STEM, we can inspire and empower a new generation of women to pursue STEM careers. This article explores the impact of women pioneers in STEM and how their legacy continues to inspire new professionals and shape the future of the industry.
The Need for Empowerment
In the world of STEM, women are underrepresented and outnumbered by their male colleagues. Studies have demonstrated that a more diverse team yields impressive results. The research speaks for itself. According to a study conducted by McKinsey & Company titled “Delivering through Diversity,” organizations with more diverse teams outperform their less diverse counterparts. Another study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics titled "Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Survey," found that companies with females in leadership positions achieved a 15% increase in profitability. Diversifying teams within organizations could potentially pay off and increase the bottom line. As companies adopt a more inclusive posture that embraces diversity, the unsurmountable efforts of breaking the glass ceiling of the past will be replaced with a culture that encourages growth, opportunities, and a collaborative workforce that always exceeds its targets.
Inspiring Women Through Celebrating Pioneers
There is an adage that aptly illustrates the importance of representation: you cannot aspire to become something that you have never seen or experienced. Plainly, you cannot be what you cannot see. As seeing is believing it is important to introduce aspiring technologists to a few tech pioneers that have paved the way in today’s computer age. As individuals are mesmerized by the heroic stories of professionals in the STEM world that they ingest from media outlets, many women will want to pursue careers in technology. For those who choose to explore these careers, here is a list of eight women that have broken through barriers and paved the way for the world’s next generation of women in STEM.
Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu — Physicist
During World War II, physicist Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu was one of many scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project. Dr. Wu was instrumental in developing the process to separate uranium isotopes for atomic weapons. Additionally, in peacetime, Dr. Wu conducted groundbreaking experiments on beta decay, which disproved previously accepted ideas about parity in physics.
Professor Carolyn Parker — Physicist
Another physicist contributing to the efforts of World War II was Professor Carolyn Parker who contributed her expertise to the Dayton Project which conducted research aimed at developing methods to produce polonium-210 as well as other radioactive isotopes for use in atomic weapons.
Ruth A. Weiss — Computer Scientist
Ruth A. Weiss was a computer scientist most notable for the co-development of the L2 interpretative language with her colleague Richard Hamming, her work on MULTICS, and solving the hidden line removal issue.
Jean E. Sammet — Computer Scientist
Jean E. Sammet was the developer of the Formula Manipulation Compiler (FORMAC). FORMAC was an extension of FORTRAN IV. Jean E. Sammet’s name may sound familiar because she is also one of the original research programmers for the COBOL language, the author of Programming Languages: History and Fundamentals, and the recipient of the 2009 IEEE Computer Society Computer Pioneer Award.
Dr. Evelyn Boyd Granville — Computer Scientist
Dr. Evelyn Boyd Granville made significant contributions to technology. Dr. Granville was a mathematician and computer scientist who helped NASA to develop numerical analysis techniques for both orbital and trajectory calculations during the United States' early days of exploring space. Dr. Granville worked with Symbolic Optimal assembly Programming (SOAP) as well as FORTRAN.
The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson conducted groundbreaking research on the advancements of telecommunications. The world can continue to enjoy the fruits of Dr. Jackson’s research, most notably the portable fax, the touch-tone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID as well as call waiting. She is the 18th president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and was awarded the National Medal of Science which is the highest honor awarded for science and engineering.
Dr. Susan Eggers — Computer Architect
Dr. Susan Eggers is a computer scientist who developed simultaneous multithreaded processors (SMT). Dr. Eggers is the first woman to receive the Eckert-Mauchly Award and her colleagues at the University of Washington developed methods to increase central processing unit (CPU) performance, reduction of power consumption which makes mainframe computers much more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, and her work on optimization of cache and memory hierarchy has improved efficiency, performance, and design.
Dr. Ayanna Howard — Roboticist/Electrical Engineer
Dr. Ayanna Howard is the current dean of engineering at Ohio State University. Dr. Howard is an electrical engineer and world-renowned roboticist. Dr. Howard helped to develop the first commercial genetic algorithm called Evolver and has worked at NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory as a senior robotics researcher and deputy manager in the Office of the Chief Scientist. Dr. Howard was involved in the development of both the SmartNav autonomous, next-generation Mars rover, and the SnoMotes, toy-sized robots that can explore icy terrain that is too dangerous for scientists.
Marian Rogers Croak, PhD — Engineer
Dr. Marian Rogers Croak is the current vice president of engineering at Google. Dr. Croak has over 200 patents and is most notable for developing Voice Over Internet Protocols (VOIP), and in 2021, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Empowering the Next Generation
Each of these women pioneers is a shining example of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians who have risen to the challenge as a woman in STEM. They remind us that what seems to be impossible is possible. Celebrating women in tech by recognizing their accomplishments helps to inspire the next generation of tech pioneers. It is essential to create a supportive and inclusive environment for women in tech. This includes creating policies that support providing opportunities for professional development and ensuring that women have access to the resources and support they need to succeed. In conclusion, by inspiring and celebrating women pioneers in tech, we enable the next generation of tech pioneers to thrive.