1.3  21st Century Women STEM Innovators

Women, whose work in philosophy, science, and politics has been neglected or marginalized in history textbooks and curriculum framework, made change-producing discoveries and advances during the Enlightenment and in every era since. Still in today's digital age, the most well-known STEM figures are men, such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg.

Rarely do elementary, middle, or high school students learn about women like Margaret Hamilton who wrote the software for the 1969 Apollo Landing and invented the term "software engineer," Annie Easley, a Black rocket scientist whose work set the stage for space shuttle launches, Radia Perlman, the "mother of the Internet" who invented an algorithm for organizing and moving data, and many more women technology trailblazers.

Indeed, there is a lack of diversity in STEM fields in general. Just 3% of STEM workers are Native American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, or people who identify with 2 or more racial groups. Women earn more than half the bachelor's degree in health and life sciences, but far fewer in engineering and computer science (Pew Research Center, April 14, 2021).

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How many of the following women trailblazers and change makers in math, science, and technology fields did you learn about in school?

If the answer is 1 or less, you are not alone.

Take a moment to learn about just one from the list: Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabelle Milbanke. She is considered the first computer programmer. 

Ada Lovelace

Portrait of Ada Lovelace by Alfred Edward Chalon (1838)
"Ada Lovelace Chalon" by Alfred Edward Chalon, Public Domain

Ada Lovelace did not conform to traditional gender roles and expectations, focusing on mathematics and coding in a time when women were not taught math. She became a correspondent to mathematician Charles Babbage who was in the process of creating the plans for the Difference Machine, the world's first calculator. She created notes on the machine and its step sequences and those notes became the first computer "code." Learn more at Ada Lovelace, Mathematician and First Computer Programmer.

In the following activities, you will explore how influential women in STEM fields are, and have been, portrayed in the media and think about how to encourage more girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Activity 1: Locate Women in STEM in the Media

Female tech user
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash, free to use

Activity 2: Increase the Participation of Girls in STEM

Designing for Learning: Student-Created Activity Example

Increasing Participation of Women In STEM

Activity 3: Revise a Science or Math Textbook to be More Gender Inclusive

Activity 4: Analyze the Portrayals of Women in Science and Politics, Then and Now

Additional Resources 

Connecting to the Standards

  • Massachusetts Civics & Government Standards
    •  Explain the influence of Enlightenment thinkers on the American Revolution and the framework of American government (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T1.3]
  • ISTE Standards
    • Knowledge Constructor
      • 3a: Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
      • 3b: Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data, or other resources.
      • 3d: Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
    • Creative Communicator
      • 6b: Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
      • 6d: Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for the intended audiences. 
  • DLCS Standards
    • Interpersonal and Societal Impact (CAS.c)
    • Digital Tools (DTC.a)
    • Collaboration and Communication (DTC.b)
    • Research (DTC.c)
  • English Language Arts > History/Social Studies Common Core Standards
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8
  • English/Language Arts Common Core Standards


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