Wonder Women? History, Diversity & STEM

If there is an invention, an idea, a discovery that is not accepted by a ruling body, does that mean it is not qualified or worthy? Consider the electronic feeding tube; rejected by the American Veterans Administration, but adapted by the French government in 1951. A few years later,the same inventor approached the same organization, the American Veterans Administration with the disposable cardboard emesis basin (the kidney dish). This invention was also rejected but sold to the Belgium government. Qualified versus accepted. Bessie Virginia Blount.Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 5.45.12 PM She’s one of the people I think of when organizations say, “we cannot find qualified women. ” She invented the electronic feeding tube which allows amputees to feed themselves and was awarded a patent for the device and she invented the disposable cardboard emesis basin¹ – which decreases cross contamination of diseases. Yet, twice the American Veterans Administration did not accept her inventions which are in still in use 50 years later.

Is there really a shortage of qualified people or qualified reviewers? Or,  do applicant screeners automatically seek to fit candidates into a template of what is familiar? For a group that prides itself on creativity and innovation, why is the concept of the value of a diverse team rejected, even though data supports a diverse team makes a better product? As a product tester, I could break things, easily. To the chagrin of the team of male engineers, I broke a dot matrix printer ready for release simply by changing the font size. The team’s response, but why would anyone want to change fonts, even as I presented 4 credible scenarios. A diverse team brings a diverse perspective, and yields a better product. Many organizations set diversity quotas, yet do a disservice to the workforce in by not promoting the value and strength of a team that has men and women, young and old and diverse cultures. As technology becomes more and more expansive  and touches all parts of our lives, isn’t it imperative the designers of those systems at reflect a cross section of its users.

Twitter’s Evan Williams says trolling could have been curbed early on if more women had been on staff from the start. Male engineers thought Pinterest’s visual search feature was ready to launch when a female software developer found flaws with the first thing she tested. Women make up half the population and influence 85% of the purchasing decisions, we need them in tech designing and developing. We’re hurling rapidly into artificial and augmented intelligence. Should the current stereotype of socially awkward, 25 year old White and Asian males be the imminent designers of products of the future?  This isn’t a search for the Wonder Woman of technology; this is acceptance that there is value of everyday people working together to create wonder. March is Women’s History Month; what do we know, what can we learn, what can we create with diversity? The future depends on it.




¹ disposable cardboard emesis basin


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