It’s International Women’s Day 2020, so let’s foster more diversity, close the gender gap and encourage mental health. We’re in one of the largest wealth-creation cycles of this decade, if not this century. Surely broader perspectives result in better problem-solving. Why not increase the statistic and allow women to hold greater than 16% of tech roles in the UK to improve equality?
So how do we encourage diversity and inclusion whilst improving psychological wellbeing? Below, I choose ten extraordinary women, across the centuries, to be on my high-performing team. These inspiring female trailblazers have mainly gone unrecognised by society for their achievements. They have taught us to push the boundaries, be collaborative and approachable, foster a psychologically safe environment and above all, they have taught us to lead with integrity, vision and passion.
So, who are these remarkable female heroes? How have they changed our lives and why have I chosen them to be on my high-performing team?
These ladies were approachable and have promoted a culture where feelings of loyalty and a sense of purpose are encouraged. Connecting with other people helps to build good relationships that is important for mental wellbeing.
1. COLLABORATION – Dorothy Vaughan (1910-2008)
“Separate and equal are two different things. Just ‘cause’ it’s the way doesn’t make it right.”
Dorothy was a highly skilled mathematician in NASA who became the first black American woman to supervise a group of staff at the space centre. She was collaborative by nature, shared her information and always kept a good sense of humour. She was one of the three incredible women who helped win the space race for the US. Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson fought both gender and racial discrimination when they were hired by NASA as ‘human computers’. The ingenuity of these three ladies is demonstrated in Margot Lee Shetterly’s book and film ’Hidden Figures.’
2. CONFIDENCE – Dame Stella Rimington (1935)
“It’s not right because it just isn’t. You can’t go around making up evidence just because you’re convinced someone is guilty. You can’t be judge and jury; that’s not your job. (Liz)”
Stella is an author and was Director-General of MI5 (1992-1996). She showed confidence and self-reliance by being the first woman to lead MI5 and the first Director-General to be publicly named in the Government’s new spirit of openness. Stella believed in herself and took accountability. She is known by billions of people worldwide as the role model for the character ‘M’ played by Dame Judi Dench in the James Bond 007 films.
3. GROWTH MINDSET – Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) – ‘Algorithm Enchantress’
“The more I study, the more insatiable do I feel my genius for it to be.”
Ada was unique in that she developed an algorithm for a computer that didn’t yet exist. She was incredibly curious, eager to learn and flexible to new approaches to achieve her aim. Many recognise her accomplishments and qualify her as the world’s first computer programmer. Learning new skills improves your mental wellbeing by boosting self-confidence and raising self-esteem.
These ladies fostered a psychologically safe environment where people are not afraid to speak up, share ideas and give or receive feedback. They were physically active believing in the power of ’green therapy’ and exercising in green spaces and surrounding themselves in nature. A connection with the natural world is vital for our mental health.
4. DETERMINATION – Katherine Johnson (1918 -24th Feb-2020) – ‘Pioneering NASA Mathematician
“Girls are capable of doing everything men are capable of doing. Sometimes they have more imagination than men.”
Katherine was a ‘human ‘computer’ who broke colour barriers and whose calculations of orbital mechanics made the first and subsequent US crewed spaceflights possible. Katherine was never afraid of failure. Even though she was rejected by NASA the first time she applied, she didn’t quit! She re-applied for a second time and was successful. She helped send John Glen into Orbit in 1962.
5. CREATIVE – Marie Curie (1867-1934) – ‘Pioneering Scientist and winner of two Nobel prizes’
“Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
Marie was a ‘creative genius’ and a Polish physicist and chemist who became the first woman to win a Nobel prize. She was innovative and constantly generating new ideas. Marie is remembered for her discovery of radium and polonium, and her huge contribution to the fight against cancer. Her work continues to inspire the Marie Curie charity’s mission to fight cancer and to support people living with terminal illness.
6. POSITIVE ATTITUDE (MINDFULNESS) – Grace Hopper (1906-1992) – ‘Programming Pioneer’.
“It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission
The Queen of Software and Grandma COBOL. Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (US Navy) helped invent some of the early English programming languages. She always remained positive, mindful and reminding her staff of their worth by praising their performance and achievements. Grace popularised the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, an early high-level programming language still in use today. Practicing mindfulness and paying more attention to the present moment can improve your mental wellbeing. It helps you to enjoy life and understand yourself better and can positively affect the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.
These ladies have led with integrity and gained the respect of their teams by acting professionally, ethically and empathetically. They were kind and gave back to others – simple acts of kindness can help improve your mental wellbeing.
7. VISION – HYPATIA (360-415AD) – ‘Alexandria’s greatest female scholar
“Reserve your fight to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.”
HYPATIA was widely known for her generosity, love of learning and expertise in teaching in the subjects of Neo-Platonism, mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy. Generous by nature, HYPATIA thought big. She was ahead of her time and able to visualise future success. Her role as one of the world’s first female academics, murdered with horrific cruelty, has made her a heroic figure, and the subject of highly speculative academic works and novels. The 2009 movie Agora fictionalises her final years.
8. COURAGE – Violette Szabo (1921-1945) – ‘The Bravest of Us All’
“The life that I have is all that I have and the life that I have is yours. The love that I have of the life that I have is yours and yours and yours.” Leo Marks
Violette was an undercover secret agent for the SOE (Special Operations Executive) in occupied France during WWII. Violette had the courage to follow her heart and intuition to lead by example. After completing two special missions, she was parachuted into France, captured, tortured and executed by the Germans in 1945 aged just twenty-three. Violette is a posthumous recipient of the George Cross.
9. PASSION – Malala Yousafzai (1997) – ‘Modern-Day Heroine’
“When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”
Malala was just a young girl, when she stood up against the Taliban in Pakistan, insisting that girls be allowed to receive an education. She found at an early age what she loves to do and continues to work extremely hard to achieve it by being true to herself. In 2012, Malala survived a shot to the head by a Taliban gunman and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her human rights advocacy work.
10. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE – Mary Jackson (1921-2005)
“Every time we get a chance to get ahead, they move the finish line. Every time.”
Mary worked as a mathematician and aerospace engineer for NASA. After 34 years at the organisation, she finally earned the most senior engineering title available. She was always self-aware and managed to keep a good sense of humour. Mary was able to bring balance and feel relaxed by keeping things in perspective.
So, what have we learned? How do we prioritise diversity and inclusion and improve mental health in our high performing teams?
- INSPIRE – Let’s challenge ourselves and others to become the best version we can be. Why not become a role model and highlight the successes and achievements of technology and science project initiatives?
- MINDFULNESS – Pay more attention to the present moment – own your thoughts and feelings. Be aware of the world around you by practicing mindful breathing, yoga and meditation.
- MENTORSHIP – Be approachable and connect with others. Be more people-focused, emotionally intelligent and aware of how we respond and manage our own and others feelings. Guide and mentor, imparting our knowledge and experience in a creative and fun approach.
- LIMIT UNCONSCIOUS BIAS – Foster a psychologically safe workplace, where we can collaborate, engage and be inclusive, through good networking and communication. Be aware, manage and question cultural biases. Create inclusive meetings and supportive dialogues. Share positive and negative experiences to provide emotional support.
- VISIBILITY – Lead with integrity, vision and passion, always encouraging a positive growth mindset. The more visibility we can bring of a diverse and inclusive workforce, the stronger the equation to closing the gender and diversity gap and improvimg equality.
- EXERCISE – Being physically active is a powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges. Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts your overall mood.
In all areas of work and life, women are smashing ‘glass ceilings’ and making remarkable progress. Let’s continue to encourage girls to be curious and seek answers to the mysteries around them so that they can become the problem-solvers of tomorrow.
These ten inspiring role models are glowing examples of ceaseless curiosity, boundless courage and world-changing ingenuity. Thanks to each of them, women and girls worldwide can dream big and live with fewer physical and emotional constraints.
We salute them!