Women in STEM: They're not just the social media trend; they're members of society that actively battle the gender gap while absolutely owning the scientific field. The stereotypes society maintains about STEM professionals are a significant contributor to the gender gap's persistence.
Men are more likely than women to be the first person that springs to mind when someone thinks of a mathematician or scientist. Young women who have grown up liking STEM often give up on their aspirations in favor of pursuing careers that conform to gender stereotypes because of societal conventions and gender conceptions.
Nonetheless, continuing to support the work of female STEM professionals and enhancing the perception of those women who have made significant contributions to STEM disciplines are two ways to address the shortage of women in STEM.
Here are 8 women in STEM through the past and the present whose contributions serve as a constant reminder to us — today's hopeful women and women of color in STEM — of the power and potential of their own contributions.
1. Marie Curie
Marie Curie, perhaps the most famous female scientist of all time, was behind the discovery of two elements along with her husband, Pierre Curie. Marie was and still is the only person to have ever won Nobel Prizes in two scientific categories. She raised two daughters almost entirely by herself while being a Professor of General Physics at the Sorbonne during a time when women did not teach science at European universities and pioneering research into radioactivity.
Despite growing up in a poor household, she was never hindered in pursuing a career in the sciences, which was uncommon for women at her time. Curie was the only woman at the Solvay Conference in 1927 and her work of championing radium in medicine substantially changed the world's views of radioactivity.
2. Hedy Lamarr
The mother of Wi-Fi was a mesmerizing actress whose concepts were behind the basis of cell phone and Bluetooth systems technology. Her ravishing beauty, which was the inspiration behind Snow White and Cat Woman, almost always overshadowed her mind, a brilliant mind that fine-tuned a secure radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes during World War II. To this day, neither LaMarr nor her estate has received a dime from the multi-billion-dollar industry her idea laid the foundations for, though the U.S. military has publicly recognized her frequency-hopping patent and profound contribution to technology.
Lamarr's scientific work was barely acknowledged because it did not fit into the confined narrative for actresses at that time. Even though by profession she was an actress, without her work in the field of engineering, math, science and technology, we would truly be lost.
3, 4 & 5. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson
The real-life women behind the Oscar-nominated "Hidden Figures" were black mathematicians, famously referred to as NASA's human computers. Their calculations led to the success of one of the first US crewed spaceflights. Their calculations were critical to the success of manned space missions in the early 1960s as well as the moon landing in 1969.
Despite facing heavy discrimination throughout their careers, these fearless women never backed down. Jackson was the first Black engineer at NASA, Vaughan was NACA's first Black supervisor and Johnson was the first woman to be part of the Flight Research Division. Johnson was in fact awarded the highest civilian honor of the US in 2015 — the Presidential Medal of Freedom. These ingenious women pushed boundaries, overcame adversity and continue to inspire generations of young people to reach for the stars.
6. Jane C. Wright
Wright was an innovative cancer researcher and surgeon who was recognized for her advances in chemotherapy. Dr. Wright was also appointed professor of surgery, director of the cancer chemotherapy division and associate dean at New York Medical College in 1967.
She was elected as the New York Cancer Society's first female president. Wright sat on the board of directors for the American Cancer Society in New York and was a founding member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Throughout the course of her career, she authored more than 100 papers and oversaw delegations of cancer researchers all around the world. Dr. Wright was the highest-ranking African American woman at a nationally renowned medical institution at a period when there were only a handful of hundred African American women doctors in the entire United States. She developed a new comprehensive program to study cancer, heart disease and stroke while conducting private research at the New York Medical College and another program to train medical professionals in chemotherapy.
7. Indira Hinduja
A renowned gynecologist and infertility specialist based in India, Dr. Hinduja was the first to deliver a test tube baby in India. She is a pioneer of the gamete intra-fallopian transfer technique (GIFT) and has also delivered India’s first GIFT baby.
She is also known for the oocyte donation technique she has developed for premature ovarian failure and menopausal patients. Indira is a continuous inspiration to women who want to pursue a STEM career in not just India, but all over the world. Her ongoing passion for research has broadened her perspective in areas such as metabolomics, whole genome studies in reproductive medicine, and molecular and cellular biology related to stem cell development, embryo implantation, endometrial receptivity and metabolomics.
She has published the results of her research in more than 125 national and international journals. Innovative studies on numerous areas of infertility have also paved the door for treatments for infertility and birth defect prevention.
8. Rosalind Franklin
Franklin, who has commonly been referred to as the "wronged heroine", the "dark lady of DNA", the "forgotten heroine"and a "feminist icon". Rosalind was the brilliant mind behind the discovery of the structure of the DNA helix - a discovery that was integral in unlocking the mystery of the world of genetics. Two men, Watson and Crick, are unfortunately better known for a discovery that was entirely derived from Franklin's work - a discovery they did not give her credit for until after she had passed away.
Since Nobel Prizes aren't awarded posthumously, she may never have gotten that credit. Franklin worked on the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus, and ironically, built on research that Watson had done before his work on DNA. During the next years she did some of the best and most important work of her life, and she traveled the world talking about coal and virus structure. Without Rosalind's key findings in the vast universe of genetics, we would be much further back in our discoveries of today.
What does the future hold for women in STEM?
We only have half the intelligence, half the passion, and ultimately, half the capability without women in STEM. To acquire fresh ideas in a sector where men predominate, we need more female voices in STEM. Think about how our world will improve as more female students become aware of the positive effects their work will have on the environment, human rights, and so much more.
There is no doubt that the community will benefit from a more diverse and effective workforce if the gap in the STEM sector's skilled workforce is addressed in a timely manner. Also, it will draw a depth of talent that may hold the answer to saving the earth and humanity.
If ever there was a time to support women in STEM, this is it.