Archive for 'Women Firsts'

A Tribute to Women Pioneers and the Women that Follow in Their Footsteps

Oulekemi (Kemi) Macaulay-Newman

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.

King Peggy: first woman King in Ghana

I want to highly recommend the book, King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village. I was so moved by the story of Peggielene Bartels, an American secretary for the Ghanaian Embassy who is selected to be king of the small Ghanaian fishing village she was originally from. She agrees to be the king, which is an unpaid position, while continuing her life and job duties in the United States only to find out that the village elders selected her because they want to be able to continue to siphon money away from the community to their personal pockets. King Peggy transforms this small fishing village of 7,000 by standing up to the elders, and using taxes to bring clean water to the village and education to the children. She navigates the male-dominated world of being a king and holds her ground while maintaining her femininity and respecting the traditions of the elders. King Peggy was not raised to be king, yet she figures out how to do so by drawing upon her inner fortitude and religion during difficult moments. Peggielene Bartels proves what a successful king a woman can be.

I’m blogging about King Peggy on Valentine’s Day because this book is really about her love for her people and by the end of the book you can’t help but fall in love with her. She is an amazing woman and very approachable king. I was able to contact her on her Facebook page and I was thrilled when she responded. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

Gabby Douglas Teaches Women in STEM Not To Give Up

Did you, like me, watch Gabby Douglas win two gold medals in the 2012 Summer Olympics? I was so happy when she won gold medals in both the individual and team all-around competitions. What a star!

What struck me, as I watched Gabby, was that although she made some serious mistakes throughout her routines while competing – such as her fall on the balance beam – she didn’t let it shake her, she didn’t quit, she just kept going, maintained her focus and did her best. And her reward? Two gold medals!

So often women suffer from perfectionism – which results in an all or nothing approach for them in life – that can mean that as soon as they make a serious mistake, they give up, rather than try again and keep going like Gabby. Research shows that when women get a poor or failing grade in STEM courses they think it’s because they aren’t well-suited for the field and often drop out. By contrast, men are more likely to think the problem was something external, such as a poor teacher, and repeat the course.

We have a number of articles in our Proven Practices Collection about retention of women in STEM that document this phenomenon and we are soon to add more! I also talk about how to counteract this dynamic with your female students in my WomenTech Educators online training.

Gabby Douglas shows us that you can be a champion and win the gold by being outstanding, taking your mistakes in stride and focusing on the future.

Educators, have you seen this perfectionism phenomenon in your classes with women in STEM? How have you overcome this?

Calypso Rose: What the “Lioness of the Jungle” can tell us about STEM

A few weeks back I saw the documentary, “Calypso Rose: Lioness of the Jungle,” about the first professional woman Calypso singer from Trinidad. Calypso Rose was the first woman to win the Calypso King contest and the Trinidad Road March competition in the 1970s. Still performing at 72 years old, she’s now written more than 800 songs. Some of her calypsos are about women’s issues such as domestic violence, and she’s used her platform of music to bring awareness around the world.

In her documentary, she talks about how much resistance she faced as the first woman calypso singer and many of the stories she told sounded so familiar – they are the stories of all women breaking into a man’s world. First, how fellow musicians tried to ban her from competing in the formerly all-male Calypso King contest, but she persisted and eventually even won the competition. Later she talked about how she was so careful not to have relations with any of the other musicians she was working with, and living with, in the Calypso tents, yet there were still rumors that she was sleeping with all the male musicians and then other rumors that she was sleeping with the female musicians. Through it all, she kept her head high, and focused on her music.

During the film, a professional female calypso singer from St. Lucia meets Calypso Rose for the first time and is overcome with emotion. She tells Calypso Rose that she has been her role model all of her life and that she helped her to see it was possible for her to pursue her own career in this male-dominated genre of music. While today, we don’t have that many more women firsts remaining in the US, the dynamic is still the same for women and girls who might be the firsts in their families, their communities, their schools, and among their friends. They still need the hope and inspiration of the female role models who have gone before them so that they know they too can do it. Not everyone can be a pioneer like Calypso Rose, pioneers by their nature are few in numbers, but all girls can feel it’s possible to be a Calypso singer, a drummer like Sheila E, an astronaut like Sally Ride, or a surgeon general like Dr. Joycelyn Elders. Or equally important, a computer network technician perhaps like her Aunt, a geographic information systems analyst like her sister, or an auto technician like her neighbor Sue. Female role models help women and girls see their own unlimited potential.

Is there a female role model who inspired you? Please share in the comments the person in your life who helped you see your own potential.

Warmly,

Donna

PS I love Calypso Rose’s music, and following the documentary I went home and downloaded her Best of Calypso Rose album and it’s my new work out music playlist! You can’t but help move when you are listening to it. Go to her website to hear her music and see clips from her documentary. I’d love to share the joy of Calypso Rose’s music with all of you!