Discrimination is socialized (my review of Hidden Figures)

Posted by Gina Rosenthal in women in tech | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Hidden Figures opens officially tomorrow, but I saw it tonight. This movie is about three African American female engineers who pioneered space travel at NASA. Oh yeah, the movie was set in the 60s, and they did this while fighting racism and sexism and all sorts of discrimination.

I’m just going to free flow with thoughts here, so I don’t lose them. The events in this movie happened 50 years ago, before many of us were even born. However, all of the social behavior demonstrated in the telling of this tale continues today.

Here are the characters that stood out to me, mostly because I have seen them all:

  • You’ve got the mechanical engineer who can tinker and fix anything, yet understands the politics enough to know when it’s time to learn something new. Oh, and she brings everyone with her. If someone throws up a political block, she finds a work-around.
  • You’ve got the hard headed engineer who does not take no for an answer, and who can not keep her emotions inside when her feels bubble up.
  • You’ve got an amazing mathematical engineer who perseveres even when she can’t attach her name to the work SHE has done.
  • You’ve got the arrogant lead engineer, with all the right education and the powerful position, who can’t see beyond the way things have always been, because to do so could possibly mean giving up power. This ended up being a silly fear that didn’t even come to pass, but how much time did he waste that impacted the mission, let alone the mental health of a brilliant mind who was critical to the mission? I’ve butted heads with this guy many a time, right down to his exasperated sighs when I keep pushing against the “this is just how it’s always been Gina” excuses.
  • You had the woman who kept her fellow women down. In this case, she did it based on race. But she “really didn’t have anything against these women”. Yeah, I’ve worked (formally and informally) with her before, way too many times.
  • You’ve got the manager that only sees the work, and can’t see the subtle (and no so subtle) discrimination, not because he’s bad but because he can’t fathom it actually happening and interfering with production. Had those too.
  • You’ve got the men who just see you for what you bring to the team. They encourage your tenacity because it helps the group accomplish their goals. It’s easier to find this kind of guy nowadays, and that’s pretty awesome.
  • You’ve got the men who appreciate and completely support their phenomenal women. Those have been few and far between, but those good guys exist.

These are socialized roles y’all. People play these roles because that’s how they have seen other seemingly successful people act. Which means we can re-socialize ourselves. Be the good examples, not the bad ones. Expect more from your interactions with others, both from them and from yourself.

It is just ridiculous that we’re still living like we are in the 1960s in our professional lives. It needs to end with us.

Who’s with me?

You can start by going to see Hidden Figures, and talking about it.

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