Op-Ed: Discrimination In ‘Hidden Figures’ Is Still Today’s Reality For Black Women In STEM

The modern impact of Hidden Figures


Jan. 19 2017, Published 2:30 a.m. ET

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I choked back tears while watching the now famous movie, ‘Hidden Figures.

To see this powerful movie takeover the box office was an experience like no other for Black women and people all around the world. Finally, 60 years later we are celebrating the Black masterminds that paved the way for Black women like myself.

I too am a technologist. I am a Black woman, a daughter, a sister, a bachelor’s of science holder, and a professional.  I’m no genius but I spend most of my days working with new technology, statistics, and user experience modules. Watching ‘Hidden Figures’ and the discriminatory experiences these Black women went through was saddening, but it also made me angry. Why the anger?  Today, WE AS BLACK WOMEN ARE STILL DEALING WITH THESE HARSH REALTIES in these white male dominated fields. I am still being looked over, talked over, having to accredit my work to someone else, passed over, and expected to show my credentials when nobody else is asked.

These fields, were not made for us.  They put every stipulation they can on applications to keep us from working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and the ones who are allowed in are considered the “exception.”

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60 years later, we are dealing with the same stigmas but now it is institutionalized. This is why representation matters, this movie matters. I see Black people working so hard, and still not getting the credit they deserve. You are expected to work twice as hard, if not then three times harder. For Fortune 500 companies, there are no Black female CEO’s. Our representation is diminishing across the corporate level. Not because we don’t belong here, but because the system works overtime to keep us out.

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It is our job as Black people and Black women to put ourselves in the position to educate, mentor and lead our children and other young adults into fields that they may also feel are “not for them.” We have a job to do, and it will not be easy. I don’t want another 60 years to pass us by, and we are still having these conversations about no representation, and bringing people of color into STEM. The talent is there, the people are there and I have seen it for myself.

How can you help? This is a great question.

hidden figures katherine johnson via giphy
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1. Be the change you wish to see.

When President Obama gave his final address to the U.S. he made a statement that really resonated with me. He said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Stop waiting, be the change.

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2. Engage in uncomfortable conversations.

Race is hard to talk about, and is often not talked about in the workplace. Make sure this stays apart of your conversations, bring it up even if it feels uncomfortable for you. We can’t change anything that we aren’t willing to talk about. Great things happen outside of comfort zones.

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3. Focus on the positive.

All white people are not bad people, just like all Black people are not bad people. Focus on similarities, don’t always make the conversation about differences. The goal is to bring us together, not apart.

I think we all can agree that we have some work to do. This is not a time to scoot back from the table and expect our government to do the work for us. We’ve tried that method and it has failed us and will continue to fail us unless we put our feet on the ground and do the work. We have to focus on what we can control and take steps towards what matters to us. To me, that would mean drawing more diversity into STEM—but what does it mean for you? 

[Photos via Hidden Figures Facebook, and Giphy]

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