Women of Color in STEM Take Center Stage at the Oscars

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When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences holds the 89th Oscars this Sunday, I’ll be rooting for “Hidden Figures” to win Best Picture, and Octavia Spencer to win Best Supporting Actress.

Since both Black History Month and National Engineers Week occur in February, it would be great if during this month, the movie about African-American Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) pioneers – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – won Best Picture award.

As the first African-American female at IBM to be appointed Distinguished Engineer, Hidden Figures resonated with me. It highlighted, then shattered stereotypes about women and minorities, and it showed the importance of awareness, advocacy and empowerment by leaders. It also emphasized the importance of having the courage to be first and to influence others with a shared vision of achieving something greater.

I have always loved math and science. In my native country, Trinidad, at the age of 14, I chose to pursue math and life sciences at my high school.

Since winning the graduating student award for Mathematics at the City University of New York and then doing graduate work at New York University, I have enjoyed a diverse and challenging career at IBM, reinventing myself, as the company transformed.

A career in STEM at IBM has afforded me many career choices. I’ve never stopped learning and applying scientific methods to solve diverse business problems. We question to understand, test hypotheses, experiment and innovate to achieve amazing results for our clients and for the world. Look at Watson.

Working in STEM you’re a hands-on contributor to something bigger than yourself, like cognitive computing. You’re part of a technical community, unified by common goals that transcend organizational, geographic or political boundaries. A perfect example of this is our IBM Academy of Technology, to which I belong and where I partner with colleagues across the globe to create value beyond my job description.

I’ve been lucky to have excellent STEM mentors to help guide my career, and to work with some of the most innovative STEM Figures in history.

At university when working on assignments on a Personal Computer (PC), I never imagined that I would meet and collaborate with one of the inventors of the PC, IBM Fellow Mark Dean. Chieko Asakawa, another IBM Fellow, opened my mind to the possibilities of accessibility technology.

One of my early mentors said to me, “With success comes great responsibility.” For me this means I must advocate for others to earn appropriate recognition for their accomplishments and support them in the pursuit of their goals.

I coach co-workers in STEM roles about achieving their career goals and on technology topics. I speak with new hires, women’s groups and students on the “Possibilities of Technology” and how it’s improving our world.

Beyond the enjoyment of a STEM career, my message to students is: Don’t let anyone stereotype you, or limit your perception of what you can or cannot do. Be curious about ways in which STEM is changing the world around you. Despite color, gender or country of origin, anyone who has the drive and is willing to learn and strive can have a successful career in STEM. Don’t set artificial limits on yourself. Have the courage to be the first and bring others along with you. Be confident to be a trailblazer even if you don’t see role models ahead of you.

The early space pioneers, as portrayed in Hidden Figures, were going into space where man had never gone before. Any of us could be the “first” to make a difference with STEM. Someone has to be first, why shouldn’t it be you?

Dale Davis Jones is a Director in IBM Global Technology Services. A Distinguished Engineer since 2008, she is the first IBM African-American female employee to earn this rank.

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Distinguished Engineer, Global Technology Services, IBM

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