Celebrate International Women's Day, National Women's History Month

It is the beginning of National Women’s History Month. It has been celebrated since 1987 but has its roots in International Women’s Day (March 8th) which started in 1911. The National Women’s History Month was first declared by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

This year’s theme is “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business”. Last year’s theme was “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government”.

I doubt there are any greeting cards at the store to celebrate this month. But who needs a corny card?  Women just want to be paid equally, afforded the same opportunities as men and recognized for their contributions in all aspects of life.

With the 2017 theme focused on business, you can learn more about the women being recognized this year at the National Women’s History Project.

They include:

  • Barbara Hackman Franklin, former Secretary of Commerce under President George H.W. Bush who served five presidents in various roles and led efforts to increase the number of women in government.
  • Alexis Herman, first African American to serve as Secretary of Labor and who led the effort to institute a global child labor standard. She also launched an aggressive initiative to help unemployed youth.
  • Lilly Ledbetter, equal pay activist whose long fight is reflected in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act signed by President Obama in 2009.
  • Barbara “Dusty” Roads, flight attendants’ union leader who fought against the airline industry’s sexist working conditions and regulations in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Norma Yaeger, first woman stockbroker to be permitted on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in the 1960s.

With my career focus on technology within healthcare, I want to highlight some women in technology and science I’ve learned about recently.

If you haven’t yet seen the Oscar nominated movie, “Hidden Figures”, put it on the “must see” list. You probably know the story by now – it’s about the NASA women behind the first manned space trip. Three real life heroes come to life in this movie, women many of us had never heard of before. They worked in engineering and computing in the early 1960’s in support of the space program against incredible discrimination as African American women.

Click on the links above to read their personal and true stories. And your kids will soon be able to play with a Katherine Johnson Lego figure as part of a recently announced Lego set honoring women at NASA.

Mildred Dresselhaus is another female trailblazer in the world of science I’ve recently learned about through a GE TV commercial campaign. Now 86 years old, Professor Dresselhaus has received numerous awards over her career including the US National Medal of Science in 1990 in recognition of her work on electronic properties of materials as well as expanding the opportunities of women in science and engineering. The commercial’s title is “What If Scientists Were Celebrities?”  It is a charming 60 second spot that reminds us how much attention some celebrities get despite having accomplished very little.

The GE campaign is part of the company’s initiative to hire 5,000 women in STEM positions on the way to meeting a goal of employing 20,000 by 2020. In addition, GE is aiming to achieve gender parity in its entry level training program and to hold managers accountable for fostering a more inclusive environment. This is exactly the kind of corporate leadership we need to see!

According to a recent article in HealthcareITNews, GE outlined the talent crisis for women in STEM roles with a number of key statistics:

  • In the U.S. today, only 14 percent of all engineers and 25 percent of all IT professionals are women.
  • Though women make up 55 percent of all college and graduate students overall, only 18 percent of computer science graduates are female, according to the US Bureau of Statistics.

Other notable stats include:

  • Among the major tech giants, women are still under-represented, making up 13-24 percent of the tech-related jobs, and 17-30 percent ascending to leadership positions.
  • While women tend to outnumber men overall in higher education (55 percent to 45 percent), the share is much smaller for STEM education.
  • Nearly 40 percent of women with engineering degrees either leave the profession or never enter the field, according to one study.

When we encourage and develop women, we help everyone. I hope you will find ways to celebrate women’s history month in the coming weeks with your work teams and the young girls in your life – let them know that many before them have been trailblazers and encourage them to reach for their own lofty goals whatever they may be.

Related resources:

National Center for Women and Information Technology

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky – Book for teens and young adults

A Mighty Girl – collection of books, toys, and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls

This post was first published on Sue Schade's Health IT Connect blog.

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