“Through the process of equity, we can reach equality,” states the description of this year’s International Women’s Day theme: Embrace Equity. Sharing stories of women who have broken barriers in STEM is a reminder of what can be achieved when equity is embraced. As Scientific American writes, “...the findings are clear: for groups that value innovation and new ideas, diversity helps.” Let’s take a moment to honor some brilliant individuals who have made it possible for more diverse voices to be heard in STEM industries – from one of the first women in STEM until now.
Elisa Leonida Zamfirescu
In 1912, before women in most countries could vote, Elisa Leonida Zamfirescu became one of the first women in the world to obtain a degree in engineering, inspiring generations of women who followed her. The World Record Academy quotes a newspaper from 1912 as follows: “In engineering, the future of women is great, Miss Elisa Leonida has passed the final exam with great success, obtaining the degree of engineer.” She not only advanced our understanding of chemistry while working at the Geological Institute, but she also “taught physics and chemistry at Pitar Moş School of Girls,” reports Europeana.
Hedy Lamarr, an iconic Hollywood actress of the 1930s and 40s, was also a scientist. According to The National Women’s History Museum, she has been dubbed “the mother of Wi-Fi" for developing “frequency hopping technology” that would later be used as the basis for wireless technologies like GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. This achievement earned her induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.
Katherine Johnson's groundbreaking calculations of orbital mechanics were integral to the success of NASA’s first human mission into space in 1961 and other Space Race endeavors, thus expanding our future with her brilliance as a mathematician. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2015, and Space.com refers to her as “one of the most celebrated black women in space science.”
Julia Serano received a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from Columbia University in 1995, and in addition to her scientific contributions thereafter, she went on to become a writer, performer, speaker, and activist. In the article, Transgender Women Trailblazers Are Changing the Nature of Science, she is quoted saying: “What actually makes science fascinating is that every answer we find inevitably leads to many more questions. And almost without fail, the more we learn about nature, the more complex it turns out to be.” How right you are, Julia. Mark your calendar for the end of the month: March 31st is the Transgender Day of Visibility in STEM.
As a founding member and current CEO of Veracode, Sam King is sought-after for her expertise in cybersecurity and exceptional ability to speak about complex business and leadership topics in a way that is understandable and engaging. She is active in community and mentorship programs for women and young professionals; she is also on the Board of MassTLC supporting work with technology leaders to promote science and technology education and opportunities for all in the Commonwealth. Last year, Sam was awarded the 2022 Women of Influence: Executive of the Year by the Executive Women’s Forum (EWF), and she will be hosting a panel at this year’s RSA Conference alongside Joyce Brocaglia, the Founder of EWF, on April 27th at the W San Francisco over breakfast.
It is only by working together that we can create a world where all people are empowered to make meaningful contributions to society. We recognize and honor these trailblazing women who are inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and technologists. Thank you for paving the way to a more equitable world.