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Inspirational women

Katherine Johnson Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom At 97

25 November, 2015
katherine obama

Katherine Johnson Receiving The Presidential Medal Of Freedom From President Obama

97-Year-Old Katherine Johnson played a role in every major US space program, from Alan Shepard’s inaugural flight to the Space Shuttle. Today she became a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, for a hugely influential career in mathematics.

Johnson’s inspirational work for the U.S. space program predates the creation of NASA. She began to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA in 1953 where women had been hired to calculate results, this in an era prior to the modern electronic computer. The job title of these women were “Computer.” Johnson’s computations on flight trajectories were used on Alan Shepard’s inaugural flight (First American in Space), John Glenn’s orbit of the earth and the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing.

“I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.” – Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

Katherine Johnson with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

A newly released statement by Dava Newman, NASA’s Deputy Administrator encompasses the feelings of many women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

“The reach of Katherine Johnson’s leadership and impact extends from classrooms across America all the way to the moon. Katherine once remarked that while many of her colleagues refrained from asking questions or taking tasks further than merely ‘what they were told to do,’ she chose instead to ask questions because she ‘wanted to know why.’

“For Katherine, finding the ‘why’ meant enrolling in high school at the age of 10; calculating the trajectory of Alan Shepherd’s trip to space and the Apollo 11’s mission to the moon; and providing the foundation that will someday allow NASA to send our astronauts to Mars. She literally wrote the textbook on rocket science.

We are all so fortunate that Katherine insisted on asking questions, and insisted on relentlessly pursing the answers. We are fortunate that when faced with the adversity of racial and gender barriers, she found the courage to say ‘tell them I’m coming.’ We are also fortunate that Katherine has chosen to take a leading role in encouraging young people to pursue education in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Katherine was born on National Equality Day. Few Americans have embodied the true spirit of equity as profoundly or impacted the cause of human exploration so extensively. At NASA, we are proud to stand on Katherine Johnson’s shoulders.”


It Was Never A Dress

4 May, 2015

Axosoft’s “It Was Never A Dress” Campaign [Axosoft]

Is it a dress or is it really a cape? A fantastic new campaign by Axosoft, an agile project management company, with the tagline #ItWasNeverADress aims to “shift perceptions and assumptions about women,” according to their website. Launched at Girls In Tech’s Catalyst conference, the campaign will bring together stories and images from around the world to “foster necessary conversations, vital voices, and that honor ALL women”, striving to create an important dialogue around women in underrepresented fields, including tech and science. Women truly are superheroes!

Learn more about the campaign here on it’s website.


Featured in TechGirls Canada’s Portraits of Strength

8 April, 2015

Vinita Marwaha Madill featured in TechGirls Canada’s Portraits of Strength

I’m honoured to be featured in TechGirls Canada’s Portraits of Strength, stories of role models across Canada to inspire young women.

“I am proud of contributing to a spacesuit programme at the European Space Agency (ESA) that will be worn on the International Space Station (ISS) next year to prevent bone and muscle loss in astronauts, with the potential to be used for long-duration exploration.”

“The biggest obstacle I have faced was overcoming preconceived ideals. I’ve always known that I wanted to work in the space industry, however it wasn’t a career path that was expected. I had to prove to others and myself that it was possible.”

I hope that the work I do inspires girls globally to follow their dreams to study and consider a career in STEM.

TechGirls Canada is a fantastic organisation that provides national leadership and community to the hundreds of non-profit and industry groups working to encourage more girls to consider tech as a career.

Read more of the feature on the TechGirls Canada website:

Inspirational women

How To Be A Rocket Woman: Leadership Advice From Women In Tech (Part 1)

9 June, 2014
Kirstine Stewart - Twitter Canada

Twitter Canada’s Kirstine Stewart delivering a keynote address at Communitech’s Tech Leadership Conference 2014

“You have to have confidence in yourself before you can have trust in others.” – Kirstine Stewart, Managing Director and Head of Twitter Canada.

Sound advice from Kirstine Stewart at the Technology Leadership Conference held in Waterloo, Canada. The former CBC Director of Programming discussed her rise from Girl Friday at a local television production company, graduating during a downturn in the publishing industry, to becoming President of Distribution only seven years later. She went on to take on the role of Director of Programming at CBC Television in 2006 where she dealt with 5000 employees.

You don’t get a promotion for keeping your head down.

Kirstine is a graduate of the Global Leadership in the 21st Century program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a member of the Forum of Young Global Leaders, selected to advise the World Economic Forum.

During her keynote address Kirstine listed her four principles of leadership:

1) Sets the vision

2) Builds tools and leads way for team to success

3) Sets goals and expectations

4) Gets out of the way

She added that a leader should cultivate a sense of innovation, have trust in and empower their team to make the right decision. A leader “gets out of the way” to allow their team to succeed however will be there on a check-in basis to ensure that they feel supported. Kirstine has a proven career of successful leadership and encourages women to study STEM. With only 16% of women in a director position at Canadian tech companies, Kirstine was asked how to increase the numbers of women in the tech industry.  She depicted an inherent issue present in female career advancement, women have historically done well at school with higher numbers studying technology related subjects, however there is a shift in the business world. Kirstine pointed out that “You don’t get a promotion for keeping your head down”. Women are finding it difficult to learn to add value and transition into the business world. With values at school and at work differing, she stated that women will need to bring attention to themselves and that people are only “as successful as the right decisions you make”. The “ones who come up with the right answers rather than the ones who speak a lot” will be valued. Kirstine also mentioned that women wait to be asked the question, rather than giving the answers before they are asked. This proactive nature would help to make women’s voices count more so in the workplace.

Leaning in doesn’t matter as much as what you do when you lean in.

Kirstine also discussed that rather than traditional masculine leadership traits in business being valued, the values of business and leadership have changed. Attributes such as empathy and multi-tasking, typically female, are now increasingly valued. She stated that “it takes all to lead” and that “gender isn’t as important as the attributes people have”. “If we need to be so outwardly focused, we’ll need a different style of leadership.”

Kirstine ended her session with “Leaning in doesn’t matter as much as what you do when you lean in”. I personally am looking forward to reading more on Kirstine’s views and advice on this pertinent subject in her book released next year, Our Turn:  Time For A New Kind Of Leader. She’s an inspirational woman and one whose success women aspiring to lead can learn a great deal from.

Part 2 of Leadership Advice From Women In Tech will be posted this week featuring advice from Dr. Anita Sands, an innovation & change leadership expert with a PhD in molecular physics and who is currently on the Board of Directors at Symantec Corp.

How To Be A Rocket Woman

How To Be A Rocket Woman: Role Models

18 October, 2013

NASA’s New Astronaut Class – The First With A 1:1 Male-Female Ratio! []

Having been asked to speak at the first official Ada Lovelace Day (15th Oct) celebration in Canada this year, I spent some time thinking about exactly what message I wanted kids, parents, teenagers & women in tech attending to hear. I decided to tell them my story. But more importantly why I decided to start Rocket Women; to give back to the women that had inspired me along my journey, helping me to reach where I am today. I’ve decided that the best way to do that is by inspiring others.

Focusing on role models, I believe that positive female role models are essential to provide women with examples to look up to when they’re making the most critical decisions in their education, lives or careers. For myself Sunita Williams has always been an inspiration and I was lucky enough to meet her whilst working at the European Space Agency. She went on to give me some fantastic advice to write my engineering Masters thesis on Future Lunar EVA Suit Design and Operations. What should be highlighted though is not only the number of female role models available for women right now, but ensuring that there will be role models in the future for future generations to look up to and aim towards.

In the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of  the First Woman In Space, Valentina Tereshkova (& the 30th Anniversary of the First American Woman in Space, Sally Ride), NASA also announced their new astronaut class with the highest percentage of female astronauts ever selected by the agency. Four out of the new eight astronauts are female with a breadth of experience among them, with women now representing 26% of NASA’s astronaut corps. The four women chosen are Christina M. Hammock, NOAA station chief in American Samoa,  Nicole Aunapu Mann, US Marine and F18 fighter pilot, Dr.Jessica Meir PhD, Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and Anne C. McClain, US Army and OH-58 Helicopter Pilot.  Dr.Jessica Meir PhD is also a graduate of the International Space University (ISU) (MSS00), making me proud to be an ISU alumnus myself!

Taking into account the significant impact that this decision will have on future generations, hopefully this trend towards equality will continue. Each decision, whether it be that a new astronaut corps has a 50% male-female ratio or whether companies decide to promote and hire women into high profile and visible leadership roles, will influence the future of these industries and their overall success to come.