On Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 16, 2017), a few IBM women in the Pacific Northwest hosted 200 elementary, middle and high school girls from Highline Public Schools for a private screening of the movie Hidden Figures, in partnership with Techbridge – a non-profit organization that works to inspire girls to discover a passion for technology, science and engineering. The movie tells the story about the work of a team of African-American women and the important role they played in the early years of the U.S. space program.
Why were we there? We were there because we wanted to honor the legacy of Dr. King by sharing with girls and their families and mentors an inspirational story about women of color breaking barriers in STEM. We also were there because of IBM’s longstanding and proud tradition of being ahead of the curve when it comes to recognizing the importance of diversity in its workforce. Twenty years before women won the right to vote, IBM hired its first female employee, and IBM had women in its leadership ranks long before it became a common practice elsewhere in the United States. Similarly, 11 years before the U.S. Civil Rights Act was passed, IBM made the decision to integrate all of its production plants where everyone regardless of race, color or creed would work together.
In addition to the movie screening, we also facilitated STEM-based learning activities from IBM’s On Demand Community, and introduced a panel discussion of Seattle-area female STEM leaders on issues of race and gender. Panelists included representatives from Tableau Software, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, Blue Origin, the University of Washington, and a “Techbridge Girl” – discussing lessons learned, and advice for girls on pursuing their dreams. This was an incredible opportunity to empower the next generation of innovators and leaders.
IBM recently announced a growing focus on new collar jobs – employment that requires innovation and special skills, but not necessarily a traditional college degree. As IBM supports women and girls in STEM, we also envision potential opportunities for everyone in future career possibilities that have yet to be imagined.
On this particular day, the smell of hot buttery popcorn, and the sound of 200 smart and enthusiastic girls cheering and clapping through an inspirational movie injected a much-needed ray of hope into all of us.
Cynthia Wang is Director of Cognitive Solutions with IBM Marketing Development, and IBM’s Senior State & Location Executive for Washington State.
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