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By Sarah Go | Strong Female Leaders

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The Rise of the Female STEM Leader
We often hear that there is a shortage of women in STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology and Math) fields. For example, former astronaut, Sally Ride, publicly referred to the "persistent gender gap in STEM fields” as a “national crisis that will be deeply detrimental to America’s global competitiveness." To boost her statement's credibility, statistics do show a pronounced gender gap in some of the hard core STEM careers such as Software Development and Engineering. As science and technology increasingly become a larger part of our lives, the drive forward in STEM fields also grows, along with the gender gap between men and women in these fields.

Our article today will not preach for more young women take an interest in STEM fields, or highlight the obvious gender gap that exists in these fields. Instead we want to focus on the STEM female leaders who have succeeded in these fields. We want young women to know that, despite having to face the persistent gender biases that exist in STEM fields, women can excel in a challenging STEM career, and that they do have incredible role models to look up to.

The future is bright in the STEM world; and women and girls must be empowered to contribute their skill sets to the future of STEM. The STEM females who contributed to closing the gender gap in STEM can inspire young women to follow in their footsteps and guide us to a better future.

Here are six of those women from both past and present:
1. Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale pioneered the notion of women in leadership roles in the medical field, by applying her statistician, nursing and design skills.

Known as “the Lady with the Lamp,” she maximized her nursing skills in the Crimean War during the 1800's, by greatly reducing the death rate in hospitals. Leveraging her visual statistic analysis ability to discover the cause of a high mortality rate among soldiers, she resolved to adopt better sanitary practices in hospitals and prevented an untimely death for many. She also designed hospital systems to apply better sanitary practices, and brought new ideas to sanitation in homes. Later, she opened her own nursing school to introduce modern nursing skills to other young women. Nightingale's leadership and innovation in modern nursing improved health care practices all over the world.

2. Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson was an early mover in the national environmental movement. Born in 1907 in Pennsylvania, she studied biology and became a Marine Biologist and Conservationist. She worked at the US Fisheries Bureau while publishing journals about the wildlife. Her growing popularity in the industry helped her achieved the Editor-in-Chief position for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Combining her love for wildlife and writing, Carson eventually became a well-known writer, and authored popular books such as the "The Sea Around Us," "Under the Sea-Wind" and "The Edge of the Sea." Later in career, she shifted her focus towards wildlife conservation, including decrying the use of pesticides and banning the use of DDT, one of the most harmful pesticides used. aHer work propeled the environmental movement forward, paving the way for young conservationists and women leaders.

3. Mae Jemison
Mae Jemison is an American astronaut and physician. She graduated from Stanford University in 1977, with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering. She then attended Cornell University Medical College, and became a physician. In 1985, Jemison changed her direction in life and decided to pursue her dream of becoming an astronaut. She applied for admission to NASA's astronaut training program. Jemison was admitted to the program, being one of only 15 candidates chosen from around 2,000. She was the first African-American woman to be admitted into NASA’s program. On September 12, 1992, Jemison flew into space with six other astronauts aboard the shuttle Endeavour. As she flew through the stratosphere, she became the first African-American woman in space.

4. Elizabeth Blackburn
Elizabeth H. Blackburn is an Australian-American molecular biologist and biochemist. In the 1970's, Blackburn completed both a bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Melbourne. She then became a graduate student in molecular biology at the University of Cambridge, in England.

At Cambridge, Blackburn studied nucleic acid compositions and also experimented with techniques of DNA sequencing, which would prove helpful later in her career. In 1975, she finished a Ph.D. in molecular biology and began her postdoctoral research. She joined the laboratory of American biologist Joseph Gall, at Yale University. Later she was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and then at the University of California, San Fransisco.

In 2009, she and two colleagues were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. She made discoveries about the genetic composition and function of telomeres, which are segments of DNA at the ends of chromosomes. She also won the prize for her part in the discovery of an enzyme called telomerase, which is an essential factor in maintaining chromosomes.

5. Gwynne Shotwell
Born in 1963 in Evanston, Illinois, Gwynne grew up as the middle child in a house of three daughters. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mathematics, from Northwestern University.

After her studies, she entered the automotive industry and headed down a corporate career path, but changed her mind to pursue a more practical use of her engineering education. For over a decade she did technical work in military space research and development, including thermal analysis as it pertains to spacecraft design. In 2002, she joined the space exploration company, SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, where she combined her engineering knowledge with business. She signed on as Vice President of Business Development and was the eleventh employee at the company.

Currently, Shotwell is the President and COO of SpaceX, and manages overall company operations. She also oversees customer and strategic relationships. In 2010, SpaceX became the first private company to launch a spacecraft, achieve orbit, and then recover the spacecraft.

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