Fox’s ‘Hidden Figures’ inspires historic State Department program to support women in STEM around the world
As part of ongoing efforts to advance the engagement of women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), in collaboration with 21st Century Fox the U.S. Department of State launched #HiddenNoMore, an educational exchange program inspired by the Fox 2000 film Hidden Figures. The program brought a distinguished group of young women leaders in STEM from 48 countries to the United States for three weeks this October. #HiddenNoMore marks the first time in the history of the State Department that a Hollywood movie has led to the creation of a publicly funded education exchange program.
“It was clear to us from an early point that the film Hidden Figures was something extraordinary,” said Chip Smith, EVP of Public Affairs and Policy at 21CF, at a welcome lunch for the Hidden No More participants in Washington, D.C. “As participants of the International Visitor Leadership Program, you represent your home nations, and the key lesson of the film: that with courage and conviction, no barriers are too great to be overcome.”
The trip kicked off with a day at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC, including a screening of Hidden Figures, presentations from Susan Goldberg, National Geographic Magazine Editor in Chief, and Emerging Explorer Katy Croff, and a tour of the National Geographic museum. Three weeks later, 21CF also hosted the trip’s grand finale: a jam-packed day on the Fox Studio Lot designed to highlight women’s leadership, the role of science and technology in the entertainment business, and the transformative power of storytelling. The day’s program included tours of the lot and studio archives; a behind-the-scenes look at virtual reality projects in development at the Fox Innovation Lab; panel discussion and networking with Women in Technology at 21CF; speakers including Vanessa Morrison, Head of Fox Family, Powtawche Valerino, Navigation Engineer from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Margarita Marinova, Senior Mars Development Engineer at SpaceX.
In between, the 48 participants – many of whom are credited with impressive “firsts” in their countries and their fields – traversed the US in smaller groups, visiting labs, schools, start-ups, and other loci of innovation in Albequerque NM, Chicago IL, Greensboro NC, Lincoln NE, Louisville KY, Pensacola FL, Seattle WA, Syracuse NY, Tulsa OK, to explore best practices in the effective recruitment, training, and development of women and other underrepresented groups in STEM and learn how they might institutionalize opportunities for women in their own countries.
The film Hidden Figures depicts the untold story of three female African American mathematicians working at NASA during the Space Race of the 1960s, as well as their role in sending the first American astronaut into orbit. Since its release in December 2016, the film has become a rallying cry for diversity in STEM, inspiring a scholarship contest, free screenings for community organizations, and classroom guides. The State Department received so many requests from international embassies that it arranged an unprecedented 120 screenings. It was this groundswell of demand for Hidden Figures and its story which led the State Department to design a special IVLP program linked to the film for women in STEM across the globe. And the programming will continue with a #HiddenNoMore virtual book club for US embassies and consulates abroad.
“If you ask Google ‘What is a programmer?’ you will see only men, so the stereotypes are all around the world,” said Sofia Contreras of Argentina, who participated in #HiddenNoMore. “You can’t be what you can’t see, and we need strong women role models in order to identify with them.”
Learn about 21CF’s activations around Hidden Figures, and check out NPR’s interview with Persis Mbangsi, a chemical engineer in Cameroon, about her experience with #HiddenNoMore, which you can also find on Twitter and Instagram.
See more photos from the send-off event at the Fox Lot in the slideshow below: