From the Archives: Eight Women You Should Know!
From legendary political rights activists, to Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, to postdocs at MIT, our Interview Archive is packed full of some pretty amazing women. So this month—for Women’s History Month!—we wanted to take the time to highlight a few of the trailblazing, butt-kicking heroines whose inspirational stories are an integral part of our archive:
Mariette DiChristina: Editor in Chief, ‘Scientific American’
You wouldn’t be crazy to assume that over the 164-year-long history of a publication like Scientific American, there would have at some point been a female EIC serving at the helm…after all, the female workforce actually dominates most social and medical sciences. Unfortunately, for 164 years, you would’ve been wrong.
Yup, in the storied history of Scientific American, no woman had ever served as editor in chief of the magazine — until 2001, when Mariette DiChristina took the reins.
Mariette grew up in an era when young women were told that their career options were: teacher, nurse…and not much else. Working in biology? Or journalism? Or a combination of both?! “I was told ‘women just weren’t doing these things,’” she says of her childhood interests.
But young Mariette was the kid who scored 100% on science tests, and got excited by Bunsen burners — and her supportive father refused to let her extinguish her flame. He encouraged her to go after her passions, and her passions led her to pursue science journalism, a combination of her two favorite things.
She worked her way up from line editing articles in Popular Science, to running one of the most renowned science magazines in the world. In the 15 years that she’s been serving as editor in chief, she’s made it her mission — and the mission of the magazine — to increase access to STEM education, especially for young women.
“Why not you? Why not you to succeed? You can do it.” — Mariette DiChristina
Alana Ward Robinson: President and CEO of Robinson Group Consulting, Inc.
Alana grew up in Louisiana and attended segregated schools until she was a junior in high school. That year, the state passed a freedom of education law that allowed her to attend the all-white school across town, and she and her friends decided to take the leap. Despite some early challenges with bullying, her choice paid off: her new school offered programming classes, where she was exposed to what would become a lifelong love of computer science.
Years later, when she called her father to tell him she’d got a job at IBM, he couldn’t believe she’d actually aced her interview while wearing her hair in an “Angela Davis afro.” But she had, and in 1972, she became the first woman of color in a programming position at the Shreveport IBM office.
Not that there weren’t hurdles to overcome after that: Alana spent years dealing with clients that refused to work with her, and fighting for wages that were equal to her male peers. But eventually she realized that with all of her experience, her best bet was to remove herself from the fight and start her own consulting company.
Since then, she’s been named one of the “50 Most Important African-Americans in Technology,” and has taken up mentoring other young black women in her community.
Margaret Cho: Stand-up Comedian/Actress
The RTN Archive is full of tons of living proof that disprove that pesky stereotype that women aren’t funny (by the way, HOW is this still a thing?!?!) from improv legend Charna Halpern, to Transparent creator Jill Soloway. But when we revisit all of the hilarious ladies in our archive, one of our favorites is always the fiercely tenacious Margaret Cho.
Resisting surmounting pressure from her parents to get straight-A’s in school, 16-year-old Margaret ran away to San Francisco to instead pursue her dream of becoming a stand-up comedian. But once there, she realized that she was going up against some seriously crazy odds; not only was the stand-up world incredibly competitive, but agents were hesitant to represent an Asian-American woman. At one point, an agent even told her to her face, “Asian people will never be successful in comedy. You have your life ahead of you—you should quit.”
Luckily she didn’t listen to that agent. Instead, she went on to one of the most famous comedians in the world—male or female—and even became one of the first Asian-American women to hold a starring role on a network television show.
Now her parents are proud of her accomplishments, but they still can’t believe she was able to make it so far on her own. Margaret, on the other hand, knows exactly how she was able to succeed:
“For me, I could not compromise my dream. It was always comedy, and that, to me, was just much bigger than anything else. I loved it. I had such a blast pursuing my dream.”
Rachelle Jones, Stephanie Grant, Diana Galloway, and Robin Rogers: The First All-Female, African-American Commercial Flight Crew
February 12, 2009 started out like any other day for Captain Rachelle Jones, First Officer Stephanie Grant and flight attendants Diana Galloway and Robin Rogers—none of them went into work thinking that they’d make history. But a lucky coincidence caused by a little cold meant that on that day, each of these women wound up playing a role in something much bigger than themselves.
When the original pilot of ASA Flight 5202 from Atlanta to Nashville called in sick with a cold, Rachelle Jones stepped in to fill his shoes, thinking nothing of it. But as the rest of the randomly-assigned crew started to file on to the plane, the four women quickly realized they were about to make history: ASA Flight 5202 would become the first commercial flight operated by an all-female, all-African-American crew.
When we sat down with these four women a few years ago, they still felt like aviation is a white-male-dominated industry, but they also told us that they were optimistic for the future of young black women everywhere:
“This is a generation where all doors are open; there are no excuses anymore.”
Veronica Belmont: Product Manager, Growbot
It feels like it would be doing Veronica Belmont a disservice to say that she “broke into” an industry that had traditionally been a boys club. The real story goes more along the lines of, Veronica Belmont broke into what had been the boys’ top secret clubhouse for years, befriended all of them, whooped their butts at every video game they owned, then promptly left to form her own, cooler club.
Sword and Laser host Veronica was an early adopter of everything tech, from video games to podcasts — which is why she was the perfect subject for one of our early experiments: our Roadtrip Nation Live Interview Series:
The theme throughout all of her work? A glass-half-full attitude and a ton of positive vibes: for example, her newest endeavor, Growbot, is a workplace empowerment tool that helps workers use chatbots to give their peers kudos and props for work well done. She feels equally optimistic about the female future of tech:
“There are a lot more women getting involved in the startup space right now, and I’m so happy that more young women feel like they can be into this stuff and not feel like it’s a weird thing — they feel like it’s cool!”
Basically, if you needed proof of our belief that if you pursue your interests, a cool job will follow, look no further than Veronica. (And if you still don’t believe us, please, please go check out the newsletter that she writes about bots!)