Today I heard an interview with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor about her new book, Out of Order. Retired Justice O’Connor talked about how hard it was to find a job as a female attorney in 1950 when she graduated from Stanford Law School because no one wanted to hire a woman. She applied to 40 different law firms and was unable to get a single interview even though she was among the top graduates in her class at Stanford. She eventually met a public official with attorneys on staff who agreed to hire her, but told her that he had no more funds for the budget year and didn’t have an office for her. She offered to work for free until some dollars became available and said that she would be willing to share space with his secretary, if his secretary would agree to this. Retired Justice O’Connor got her first job as an attorney by working for free and sharing office space with a secretary, but she went on to become the first woman Supreme Court Justice. She was a pioneer and like other pioneers she was unwilling to take no for an answer. I had the privilege of meeting her in 1990 when she was still on the court and I was a WREI fellow on Capitol Hill.
I have the greatest respect and admiration for pioneering women like Sandra Day O’Connor who are some of the first to enter a career or field. Pioneers have jumped through hoops and opened doors for women in legal fields, medicine, law enforcement, the trades and STEM. The stories of these women pioneers are inspirational, moving, and important to celebrate during Women’s History Month. And I am fortunate to count a number of pioneers among my close friends.
However, I also equally admire the women who follow behind the pioneers. They may not be the first woman in their field or in their position, but they are still the first on their worksite, the first among their friends, the first in their family or just one of very few. Many of these women have the same kind of tenacity that drove Sandra Day O’Connor to succeed, and they are also leading the way for the women and girls that come after them. I would like to recognize all of these women today in this post. The women who make up 11.5% of engineers in the US, 7.5% of installation and maintenance repair workers, 1.6% of automotive service technicians, 20% of computer software engineers, and so forth.
I’ve been privileged to know many women making their own way in male-dominated fields. I’d like to recognize one in particular – Oulekemi (Kemi) Macaulay-Newman. She was an intern at IWITTS many years ago and she now consults nationally on IT security. Originally from Nigeria, she came to the U.S. when she was 14, studied computer science at a local community college, graduated with a B.S. in Mathematics from UC Berkeley, and went on to get a degree in IT security at John Hopkins. Today, at 28, she juggles her roles of IT security professional, business owner (House of Botori), mom to a three-year-old son, wife and daughter. Kemi is not a pioneer – she is not one of the first women to be successful in IT security – but she is still one of very few and she has overcome many challenges to get where she is today. I am proud to be her junior mom in the African tradition and I am proud of ALL the women forging the path for the others that are coming behind them. During this Women’s History Month I would like to recognize women like Kemi who are working in fields where they are still underrepresented – and forging the path for others.
Do you have a woman you’d like to celebrate, please post her story on my blog, I’d love to hear about her.