“HIDDEN FIGURES “is the incredible untold story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world. The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big.” (Source: Hidden Figures Website)
Reflecting on their stories I see parts of my own career journey in engineering. I am an Aerospace Engineering graduate of Tuskegee University a Historically Black College(HBCU) in Tuskegee Alabama. Tuskegee University is the top accredited Aerospace program at a HBCU. It is at Tuskegee that I am educated and learn the power of self-belief and succeeding against all odds. Together male and female students work in project teams to academically excel.
“I eventually discover while working in the field of engineering that academically I am prepared; but navigating through gender based stereotypes will become one of my biggest challenges.”
– A.M. Morgan
Hidden Figures draws strong attention to the challenges of women in the field of STEM when it comes to stereotypes and unconscious biases. The brilliant Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is an amazing mathematician and even as she proves herself capable of calculating high level computations to send astronaut John Glenn into orbit she is expected to be a silent human computer. It is inspiring to see Katherine Johnson transform into a strong advocate of her work by challenging management to provide a seat at the table for women. This is important especially since their work is forever written in the history of insuring US space travel.
One by one the bravery of each of the women in the film inspires me to not only to advocate for myself; but other women and girls. Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) brings to light the fact that you must know that you are good enough to speak up for a promotion in your career when you are already doing the work of the next pay grade level. Once she is promoted to supervisor she takes more women with her; and teaches each of the women what she knows when it comes to programming.
Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) in the movie shows us that even when the odds may seem stacked against you; there is a still a way through human connection to manifest your dream. She is relentless in her desire to become an engineer; and eventually becomes the first African American Aerospace Engineer at NASA.
The key lessons from the movie Hidden Figures are the following:
There is still much work to do in terms of overcoming gender based stereotypes and unconscious biases facing women in STEM and technical fields. My personal experiences from being mistaken for the secretary in engineering meetings, challenging my manager in performance reviews; and now as educator advocating for women and girls in STEM I know I must confidently speak with a sense of belonging at a table of influence.
I am committed to giving back to future generations the gift of the knowledge of how to handle gender based stereotypes and unconscious biases. Check out my recent feature in Dallas Morning News: How the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ inspired Dallas’ black engineering community
Overall, women play a vital part in history as problem solvers and difference makers; who need strong mentors, advocates and champions to insure we are no longer labeled as hidden figures.