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Hiding in Plain Sight


Julie Cole, Chief Client Relations Officer

It was supposed to be a fun mother/daughter outing. My 23-year-old daughter and I had planned to see the movie Hidden Figures together. After getting our tickets, buying popcorn and diet cokes, we settled into our seats ready to be entertained and inspired. But only five minutes into the film, I was agitated. The film's three protagonists, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan and Katherine Johnson were experiencing both sexism and racism. Hidden Figures was recently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and chronicles the contributions of three African American women who worked for NASA as mathematicians in the 1960s. As the title suggests, their contributions, like so many women and minorities, are hidden and were only brought to light with the publication of the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly. It's easy to see how their contributions went unnoticed. These women suffered double discrimination as minority women and weren't given credit for their work or allowed to apply for management or engineer positions. But all three persevered and prevailed and ultimately were instrumental to NASA's goal to put an American in space. Sadly, it only took us 50 years to learn of their accomplishments. How many more of these hidden figures are in our past? Will we ever really know the contributions women and minorities have made when their erasure was deliberate and intentional? This is the reason we need special opportunities such as Women's History month and Black History month to recognize the contributions which have been ignored. Of course, my preference would be that we wouldn't need dedicated months because Women's History and Black History would just be a part of our history.

Now more than ever, we need to have solidarity in our efforts. While there has been progress, contemporary women still encounter sexism and pay inequity in the workplace. In addition, as in the movie, their contributions are often minimized or hidden. We need men to be there with us caring as much as we do because women's rights are human rights and women can't be the only ones promoting equal pay and fighting sexism. In the film, there's a poignant part where Katherine Johnson's male boss is frustrated at her prolonged absence from her desk. She respectfully pushes back that the reason she is gone is because there are no colored bathrooms for her to use and she has to walk 20 minutes to use the facilities. Her boss then helps advocate for the desegregation of bathrooms on NASA's campus. Are we letting our male colleagues know where we need their advocacy or are we staying in our circle of female friends who are acutely aware of the issues? We need to be vocal about areas and issues that are unfavorable to women and minorities as well as where our contributions are being overlooked. Together we can change our history.