Women and Technology Leadership

March is Women’s History Month.  As NASA aspires to encourage the interest of young women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, I reflected on Sydney, a young girl that I am tutoring in 6th grade mathematics.

As we began our mentor protégé relationship, I was mortified when her mother told me that her teacher told her that she would be better suited for creative arts  or language arts – something like English, creative writing, or art.  There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but to make that pronouncement took away any motivation that this young, bright creative mathematician-in-the-making might have had.  A Pi Plate

No doubt the instructor saw her right-brain thinking and assumed that there was no place for her in the so-called left-brain world of mathematics and engineering.  Someone should have told him how the Fibonacci Numbers show us the convergence of beauty so majestically in the wild rose; or perhaps the vibrancy of the eigenvalues of the 440 megahertz sound of the musician’s perfect concert A; or maybe the relevancy of the constant pi in this circle we call life. 

Sadly, Sydney’s teacher, in an unspoken way, reinforced to her the notion that society will not reward women with objective logical thinking nor will it reward men with empathic creative intuition.  The diversity of style and approach is something that we desperately need — the empathic creative intuition in the scientific and technical fields; and the logical thinking and technology genius in the creative arts. 

Corporate America also needs this same kind of diversity in thinking and style.  In their book, Swim with the Dolphins, Glaser and Smalley talk about the changing culture in corporate America brought about by stiff global completion and other economic conditions.  This new environment requires a leadership that is less top-down and has more compassion for employee concerns.  The more successful leaders are gifted motivators and communicators.  They are also very intuitive and tuned into employee needs.  They aren’t soft; they are strong and tough yet gentle and caring. 

Maybe society will soon be ready for the Sydneys of the world to reach their dreams and enter the world of Mathematics.  Or maybe society will be ready for my empathic intuitive male associates to finally reach their dreams. 

I heard a song that touched my soul this morning on the radio.  Bridge Over Troubled Water.  The second verse in particular inspired this blog.

Sail on silver girl,
Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine.
All your dreams are on their way.

I think Sydney’s time has come to shine.  Rebecca Shambaugh in her book, It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor, says:

“Whatever your goals, whatever your dreams, now is the time to reach for them.  Women are poised to take on new roles like never before.  Major changes and shifts in the business world and, indeed, society as a whole, are requiring a new balance of knowledge, leadership, and perspective.”

I think this might also apply to my empathic intuitive male associates also.  I hope their dreams are on their way.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA