Changing the world by being themselves

Unknown Science - Genki Gear
Unknown Science – Genki Gear T-Shirts

It’s not easy being a woman in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

I love technology and I love working in this field. When you’re in a great role, you’re part of a team doing wonderful things. You’re respected, included, fairly critiqued and expected to give as good as you get. When you’re not, well, it’s not so great. From the expectations of being the mothering figure in the team (keeping those unruly men in line) to being demure, with great “soft skills” (shouldn’t everyone have those) to being excluded, jeered, looked down on or told to pipe down and be less aggressive. Life in a box determined by your gender out and out sucks.

That’s not to say only women make great role models. My best boss ever was a lovely man named Alistair. He was kind, fair, inspirational and loyal. When I worked with him, I loved getting out of bed to go to work. Every day was a welcome challenge, knowing my boss had my back but I was expected to produce exceptional work. Contrast this to my worst boss who shall remain unnamed: not only did he micro-manage the hell out of my day (recording every minute of work? really?), he “blue sky” thought me into “singing from the same hymn sheet” management-speak fatigue. Quelle horreur!

So, it isn’t easy being a woman in STEM. It isn’t easy finding mentors, role models and a crew of women you can talk to, who understand because they’ve walked the walk. So, where does a nary-a-demure-bone-in-her-body, self-confessed data geek with a penchant for bluntness and a straight-shooting attitude go when she needs a little inspiration?

If she’s me, (and in this case, she is!), she looks to her first love. I was three (allegedly), when I first fell in love with books. I lost myself in their pages, lived in their fictional worlds and was transported by their prose. These days, I’m lucky to have found a crew – more than one in fact. Groups of people who get me and never request I change who I am. However, its to books I return when I need a fix of inspiration at the witching hour or when things are just too raw to talk them out.

When I first began compiling this list, I asked my friends who inspired them. I didn’t want a one-note list, littered with only those recent loves. I was pleased to discover women I hadn’t encountered previously. I was enchanted by their stories and to be honest, had far too many for my list. Here are four in no particular order. Their stories, actions and lives have inspired me and my friends because they live that simple motto: they change the world by being themselves.

Kerry Greenwood - image by Monty Coles
Kerry Greenwood – image by Monty Coles

1. Kerry Greenwood (Author, Folk Singer, Factory Hand, Director, Producer, Translator, Costume-Maker, Cook, Solicitor)

When my Aussie friend mailed me a copy of Phryne Fisher, I had no idea what to expect: a 1920’s, aristocratic, female James Bond certainly wasn’t it! Kerry Greenwood cuts an even more impressive figure: she’s funny, bold and has had a bewildering number of fun, serious, down-right creative careers. When I think I’m too scared to try something new, I remind myself that Kerry both writes amazing fiction and volunteers for legal aid work once a week.

The lesson: A woman’s place is wherever the hell she wants it to be. 

2. Amy Poehler (Author, Actor, Comedian, Voice Artist, Director, Producer, Writer)

Amy Poehler at the 71st Annual Peabody Awards Luncheon 2012
Amy Poehler at the 71st Annual Peabody Awards Luncheon 2012

I first stumbled across Amy when a post by amysmartgirls.com popped up on my Facebook feed. Their motto is: Change the World by Being Yourself – this had a profound effect on me. If there’s one thing I’ve battled for, it is to continue being myself against all odds. Meredith Walker, Amy Miles, and Amy Poehler created a community to inspire girls and women everywhere to accept themselves and not conform to who others expect us to be. Of course, I had to find out more about this smart, funny, bold woman and when I read an anecdote about her in “Saturday Night Live” in Tina Fey’s Bossypants, I adored her message even more.

The lesson: When you’re told you’re “bossy”, “I don’t care if you like it” is a perfect response. 

3. Rosie Garland (Author, Performer)

Rosie Garland [credit Jonathan Bean]
Rosie Garland [credit Jonathan Bean]
My Kiwi friend got rather excited about Rosie, which made me curious. She suggested I add her to my list of inspirational women and I finally checked her out.

Rosie is compelling as her alter-ego, Rosie Lugosi and in The March Violets, but it is to her writing I’m drawn. Her books are richly drawn, compelling and dark. I’ve always adored prose that draws you in and keeps hold of you till you’re left holding your breath at the climax: book addicts will know what I mean. Why else do I admire her? She isn’t one-note: she writes poetry, non-fiction, fiction and short stories. Rosie’s writing has it and her books have been added to my TBR (To Be Read) pile with immediate effect.

The lesson: Yes, you too can be eclectic, don’t put yourself in a straitjacket.

4. Deryn Cullen (Author, Cellist, Composer)

Deryn Cullen
Deryn Cullen

Women like Deryn are exactly the reason I did a shout out before I wrote this. A cellist by calling and a Leeds resident to boot, I’d never knowingly encountered her work. Once I began to delve, well, I only wish I’d discovered her sooner. She plays with passion and feeling. I admit, I’d have completed this writing much sooner if I hadn’t spent so long enthralled by her videos. One thing that inspires me above all else is passion. My love, my friends, my work all have one thing in common: passion. That’s why so many of my friends are quintessential geeks: people so enamoured of their paths, they fairly vibrate with passion. Deryn has this to spare.

The lesson: If it doesn’t leave you breathless, on top of the world and bursting with pride, why are you doing it?

These four are just the tippy top of the iceberg. There are inspirational women everywhere. They might be your mother, sister, grandma or friends. They might be the volunteer who teaches you to keep the milk of human kindness flowing. They might be the CEO who smashed the glass ceiling but still has a full life. They might be anyone who keeps you buoyed up. Whoever they are, take the lesson:

Change the world by being yourself

P.s I wrote this wearing a crown from a Christmas cracker. In bed. Just because.

image: Ramesh Lalwani – International Day of the Girl Child for 2014 is Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence.

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