We often talk about our role models, about promoting positive examples for the next generation, and about platforming the people we admire and want to imitate. On days like today, Ada Lovelace Day, especially, we celebrate the achievements of these people.
It’s so important to build diversity into all communities, fields and careers, but today focuses on the forgotten voices in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). Even if we don’t personally identify with these role models, we should take inspiration in the daily defiance of the women whose actions have changed the world of STEM.
We at Gapsquare have compiled a list of 7 women in STEM who inspire us everyday – innovators, thinkers and leading figures in their fields, who have helped pave the way in terms of discovery, research and representation. These are the women, from all backgrounds and walks of life, who can inspire you to disrupt the way you think and behave.
And if you can’t see a role model here who looks like you or comes from where you come from, then it could be time for you to step up and be that role model yourself.
Barbara McClintock is the only woman to receive an unshared Nobel Prize for Medicine. Her research focused on how hereditary characteristics are passed down through generations of maize and how this links back to changes in plant’s chromosomes. She discovered something called transposition and used it to demonstrate that genes are responsible for turning physical characteristics on and off. McClintock defied convention by never marrying, and defied all odds by succeeding despite her low economic background.
We’ve all heard of this Scandi powerhouse and environmental activist, who at the age of just 16 is confronting world leaders head on. Thunsberg recently led the Global Climate Strike, with 4 million people protesting across the globe, and spoke at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. She has even been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thunberg often says that her neurodiversity (her autism and ADHD) helps her approach things from a different perspective, and speak more bluntly and freely. Despite her youth and widespread opposition, Thunberg is standing up for what she believes in, and is truly starting to be heard – but she’s not the only voice in this conversation: Check out these fantastic activists of Colour, like Nina Gualinga.
Kalpana Chawla joined the crew of the space shuttle Columbia in 1996 as the first Indian-born woman to fly in space. She went back up in 2003, though a break in the shuttle upon ascent caused it to disintegrate upon re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere, killing Chawla and six other crew members. She received the Congressional Space Medal for Honour, NASA Space Flight Medal and NAS Distinguished Service Medal after her death. She is recognised as a national hero in India.
This computer scientist was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, the first large-scale automatic calculator and precursor of the electronic computer. She invented one of the first linkers – a computer programme which takes one or more files and combines them – and popularised the idea of machine independent programming languages. Her work led to the development of COBOL computer language, which is still used in business, finance and administrative systems today. AND she coined the term bug to refer to unexplained computer failures, when a moth infiltrated the circuits of Mark I.
Boasting a 35 year career at NASA, a Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by Obama, and her depiction in the 2015 Hollywood film Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson’s calculations of orbital mechanics were critical to the success of the first and subsequent US spaceflights, including the space missions of the early 1960s and the moon landing in 1969. NASA has noted her ‘historical role as one of the first African-Amercian women to work as a NASA scientist.’
This English fossil collector, dealer and palaeontologist is most famous for her Jurassic marine fossil bed discoveries, found in the cliffs at Lyme Regis in Dorset. Her findings contributed to important changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the earth, and she discovered the first ichthyosaur and plesiosaur skeletons.
Despite her difficult upbringing and troublesome early adulthood, Sue Black is now one of the UKs most famous computer scientists, academics and social entrepreneurs. She was instrumental in saving Bletchley Park – the site of the top-secret World War II codebreaker, and the birthplace of the computer – with her campaigning. Black advocated to get more people interested in tech, setting up the UK’s first online network for women in tech in 1998, and a #TechMums scheme, to help mums get to grips with computers.
Thanks to our contributor Gabriela Spiro, marketing coordinator at GapSquare!
Gabriela is the Marketing Coordinator for Gapsquare, leaders in the fair pay revolution. Gabi has written for incredible publications throughout the South West & wider afield, she is hoping to help the world progress towards equality, fair pay and the end of the gender pay gap. Gabi also has a flair for theatre and can be seen coordinating shows at Edinburgh Fringe & working within Bristol’s theatres in her free time.