In the movie Hidden Figures, which tells the true story of three black women who worked at NASA in the 1960s, there is a moment where Colonel Jim Johnson apologizes for underestimating the research mathematician Katherine Johnson, and other women like her.
“I’m sorry, Katherine,” he says.
Katherine responds, “For what, Jim?”
“Underestimating you, and any other woman like you, though I don’t imagine there’s many.”
Katherine’s response is simple. “That’s good practice, right there.”
The film not only revealed figures from history who had been overlooked and underestimated, it also caused the US State Department to take another look at its educational programs for women. The State Department has now launched an original, publicly-funded educational exchange program for women.
The program is called #HiddenNoMore, an apt title for a program inspired by women who are no longer hidden. According to Vox, the program “will invite fifty women from fifty different countries to participate in a cultural and educational exchange, aimed at cultivating the efforts and achievements of women in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields (STEM).” It was revealed that the nominated participants of the program will travel to the US in October to discuss STEM-related subjects. They will also meet with universities and women-oriented organizations.
Stacey White, the Office Director of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, said, “the idea is to get people from diverse communities talking about these issues that are vital to long-term US security and prosperity. After Hidden Figures’ wide release in January, the State Department was bombarded by requests from foreign embassies that wanted to screen the film, and it was eventually screened at an unprecedented 80 overseas locations. With #HiddenNoMore, we really wanted to build on the momentum.”
STEM has long had a gender imbalance and racial disparity problem. Approximately one-third of undergraduate degrees in STEM are awarded to women. The National Science Foundation also found that “while only 18 percent of employed scientists and engineers were white women, only five percent were Asian women, one percent were black women, and one percent were Hispanic women.”
We seem to be learning a very important lesson from this movie, the women of STEM, and the people this movie has inspired. Theodore Melfi, the director of the film, hoped this would be the case when the movie was finally released, telling New York Magazine, “I feel like, you close the door on women, you close the door on humanity.”
The #HiddenNoMore initiative is an amazing step in the right direction for women who wish to pursue any field considered to be a “man’s field.” NASA made the first step when they opened their doors in the 1960s to minorities and allowed women into positions of power. Their steps towards inclusion, alongside the movie Hidden Figures, have opened everyone’s eyes to the things women can accomplish if given the opportunity to thrive.
As Octavia Spencer said, “I think there should be other industries that should look to that sort of thinking because we all have something to contribute.” Women and little girls everywhere dream to be more than just a pretty face in the crowd. They dream big and are inspired by women like Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan.
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