The Inspiring Women of “Hidden Figures” Remain Heroes Today

As the world faces the challenge of creating a more inclusive workplace, especially for careers in STEM, the message of the movie “Hidden Figures” remains as relevant today as it was during the 1960s.

By Ales Bartunek

If you are looking for a worthwhile movie to watch, I encourage you to check out Hidden Figures. Nominated for an Oscar award in the best picture category, this movie presents the determination of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson – three women whose pioneering work made it possible for astronaut John Glenn to be launched into orbit during the 1960s Space Race.


Because of their skills in mathematics, physics and engineering, these women figured out life-or-death equations and programmed a complex, first-of-a-kind computer system from IBM. Their achievements reinforced U.S. competitiveness in pursuing innovative space technologies.

Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson were truly “hidden figures” – they were unknown heroes of their day. But because they pursued science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or what we today would refer to as STEM), they were able to participate in growing fields that urgently needed these new skills, and they trained other women to follow in their footsteps.

Within the coming years, there is a specific set of jobs projected to grow at skyrocketing rates compared to others. These are jobs related to STEM.

According to the European Commission, today in Europe we lack almost 300 thousand STEM-related specialists, and the need will grow in the coming years.

Learn about the role IBM played in the true story of three inspirational Hidden Figures that helped launch John Glenn into space at

The need for women in STEM careers is especially acute. The report Dziewczyny na Politechniki states that in the last 5 years, only 36% of students in technical universities were girls. Among professors with tech degree, only 13% of them are women. What is most alarming is the fact that in 2014 on IT faculties only 13% of the students were girls – when comparing to 2002 it is a 6% decline.

Cybersecurity threats remain a looming presence worldwide, and experts predict a shortage of 1.5 million open and unfilled security positions by 2020. Bringing more women into the security industry is one way the industry can address the growing skills gap, yet women represent only 10% of the current security workforce.

The movie outlines how the “hidden figures” mastered the computer language FORTRAN by taking classes and learning new programming skills. Their relentless pursuit of STEM expertise, and their efforts to prepare themselves — and others — for future jobs remains an inspiration to all of us today.

As the world faces the challenge of creating a more inclusive workplace, these women are true-life examples of the power of pursuing a STEM education, and of the potential for women to advance in fast-growing STEM careers.

As the need for skills in strategic areas such as data science, cloud, cognitive computing and cybersecurity grows, their message remains as relevant today as it was during the 1960s.

Watch this video to hear from IBM’s Chief Diversity Officer, Lindsay-Rae McIntyre and other IBMers as they share their unique perspectives and dedication to inspire the next generation of women in STEM careers.

Ales Bartunek
Ales Bartunek
is the Country General Manager for IBM Poland and Baltics.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

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