Diversity & Inclusion

Bringing ‘Hidden Figures’ of Innovation to STEM

Share this post:

When I saw the movie Hidden Figures, I was struck by the determination of the so-called human “computers” – the African-American women whose mathematical calculations made it possible for astronaut John Glenn to be launched into orbit during the 1960s Space Race that coincided with American advances in Civil Rights.


Screen shot of the new Outthink Hidden augmented reality app.

The inspiring stories of these three women – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – made me think of other unsung heroes of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) who came from diverse backgrounds, and whose contributions to society have changed the world. They are heroes we should know and celebrate.

That inspiration, which was shared by others, led to the creation “Outthink Hidden,” a new augmented reality (AR) app about select “hidden figures” of STEM innovation in the fields of medicine and public health, the environment, aerospace and more. It’s available for free download on iTunes and Google Play.

Similar to a virtual museum, the app allows users to explore an array of 3D computer graphics renderings, written histories and audio and video narratives of Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson.

IBM has long recognized the link between diversity and innovation. Diversity is core to our culture and values, and our commitment to inclusiveness dates back more than 100 years. IBM hired its first African-American employee in 1911, and in 1953 the company called for equal opportunity in hiring “regardless of race, color, or creed,”11 years ahead of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This commitment to building a diverse workforce permeates IBM’s approach to recruiting, hiring and career development. We also think it’s important to transform education to increase the number of diverse students studying for careers in STEM. The U.S. Department of Education projects that STEM-related jobs will grow at more than double the rate of other jobs.

IBM is driving the reinvention of American education with P-TECH, IBM’s growing academic and workplace skills development model that is leading a national wave of career-focused technical education in through nearly 60 schools across six states. P-TECH has already graduated more than 50 students, including a new class of 16 graduates this month. You can read about them here.

We all can be inspired by the message of Hidden Figures – that the potential for innovation emanates from all corners of society, and of the world. But as important as it is to recognize great innovators of the past who made the world a better place, it is equally important that we invest in the next generation of STEM leaders who will develop new ways to overcome humanity’s toughest challenges. Fighting cancer and cybercrime today are as important as the “moon shot” of the 1960s.

To win those fights, we must include all who have the talent and skills to contribute.

More stories

Making the workplace safe for employees living with HIV

The recent promising news about Covid-19 vaccines is in sharp contrast to the absence of a vaccine for HIV, despite decades of research. Unlike Covid-19 with a single viral isolate that shows minimal diversity, HIV circulates in a wide range of strains that so far have proven impervious to a single vaccine. Fortunately, more people […]

Continue reading

Call for Code for Racial Justice Needs You: Join the Movement

IBM has never avoided taking on big challenges. At IBM, we are privileged to drive impact at scale. We take on challenges that transform our clients, impact people’s lives and innovate for future generations as we strive to effect systematic societal change. Over the course of our 109-year history, the evidence has become clear that […]

Continue reading

Words Matter: Driving Thoughtful Change Toward Inclusive Language in Technology

Words shape our worldview, how we regard others, and how we make others feel.  Right now, in the midst of a health and societal crisis, we are at a pivot point where people are willing to not only talk about our hard-wired issues of systemic racism and bias but to take action. While common expressions […]

Continue reading