Happy Women’s Entrepreneurship Day!

Today is November 19th, which means…today is Women’s Entrepreneurship Day!

If you haven’t heard much about it, don’t worry: this is the inaugural WED for the United States, so unless you were following pre-press, or working at an organization that does work related to WED, there’s a good chance you might not have realized Women’s Entrepreneurship Day was coming, or that it even was a day on the calendar.

I think it’s a worthwhile one, though, because-~-as the organization at the day’s core states on their website-~-women around the world have access to only 58-70% of the economic opportunities of their male partners.  Women are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to have to give up their assets in times of economic hardship (in large part because their assets are more likely to be liquid), less likely to complete their educations, less likely to access job training, and more likely to have to lean back in their careers even if they do pursue them.  Despite this, women have made many important contributions to fields across the spectrum, from science and medicine to economics and philosophy, and Women’s Entrepreneurship Day seeks to highlight those women who have done so in the past, and those who are currently doing so now, to try to inspire young women to see what they can achieve.

One of the reasons we fail to recognize female inventors and entrepreneurs is simply that history failed to give them their due credit.  Rosalind Franklin (whom you may have heard of in biology class, I hope) was the individual who actually discovered that DNA is shaped like a double helix, but it was Watson and Crick who went on to win the Nobel Prize, and they bury any mention of her contribution in the footnotes of their article.  Lize Meitner, the physicist who actually discovered nuclear fission, did so while living in exile during World War II (she was Jewish), and the Nobel Committee originally credited Otto Hahn with the discovery, awarding him the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.  (As an aside, Meitner also discovered the Auger Effect a year before Pierre Victor Auger did so, though the discovery is named for him).  Candace Pert, while studying at Johns Hopkins University, played a key role in the discovery of the opioid receptor, though her professor, Dr. Solomon Snyder, received all the credit.

In truth, this happens more often than we would like to admit.  Many successful male academics are helped by their wives, who serve as “research assistants” or “help type things up”, making often significant contributions to work that ultimately is published solely under their husbands’ names.  This is harder to give good examples of, because so few of these cases are as clear as those where female inventors were snubbed by the Nobel Committee, but it is something that will likely become more well-discussed in time.

So, instead, let’s take a moment to honor some of the women who did make incredible contributions, and who did get the credit they deserved.  Some of these discoveries and inventions may seem mundane, some may seem obscure, but all of them have been, in their own way, significant:

  • Kevlar–invented by DuPont chemist Stephanie Kwolek
  • Disposable diapers–invented by Marian Donovan
  • Dishwasher–invented by Josephine Cochrane in 1886, though she never used it herself
  • The Apgar Test–created by obstetric anesthesiologist Virginia Apgar (it’s a test of vitality for newborns)
  • Circular Saw–invented by Tabitha Babbitt, who didn’t file a patent due to her religious beliefs
  • Windshield wipers–first invented by Mary Anderson in 1903
  • Car Heater–invented by Margaret A. Wilcox in 1893
  • The Fire Escape–invented by Anna Connelly in 1887
  • Life Rafts–invented by Maria Beasley in 1882
  • Modern Medical Syringe–invented by Letitia Greer in 1899
  • Central Heating–invented by Alice Park in 1919

Today, unsurprisingly, women are still playing key roles in any number of fields-~-running major companies, discovering medical breakthroughs, advocating for political change.  Here are a few of the amazing women currently working to change the world:

  • Ruzena Bajcsy: Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at U.C. Berkeley, currently developing smart, low-power sensors that could revolutionize several ways we use technology
  • Elizabeth Dearborn Davis: Co-Founder and CEO of the Akilah Institute for Women, which has designed and now promotes business education and career development opportunities for women on campuses across sub-Saharan Africa
  • Sylvia Earle: Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society, who has dedicated years to advocating for the protection of oceanic ecosystems
  • Ingrid Munro: Founder and Managing Trustee at Jamii Bora Trust, an organization based in Nairobi which has helped lift over 150,000 people out of extreme poverty and empowers them to change their lives
  • Julielynn Wong: social entrepreneur, physician, and educator, she built Flu Near You, the world’s largest crowd-sourced flu-tracker, and has designed 3D printing blueprints for surgical instruments that can be used in space
  • Elinor Ostrom: 2009 Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences and advocate of ecosystem preservation
  • Monica Dodi: Managing Director and Co-Founder, Women’s Venture Capital Fund
  • Elizabeth Warren: U.S. Senator, outspoken advocate for women’s rights and access to education
  • Claire McCaskill: U.S. Senator, outspoken advocate for veterans’ rights and health services for military personnel

If WED is a platform to talk about the contributions women have made, and are making, to fields like science and business, I suppose the best way to end this post is by talking about some of the organizations working to help get women into these fields in the first place.  Perhaps consider this a long overdue list of possible causes of the month, though a few may have been mentioned previously on this site.

Girls, Inc. has programs to teach young women about financial literacy, including savings, investment, and philanthropic giving, and has opportunities for them to organize and lead social action projects, win scholarships, and engage in athletic activities.  The organization also has a program promoting young women’s interest in STEM fields.

Girl Scouts focus on leadership development among young women, and they ALSO have a program to engage girls in STEM fields.

Running Start is a national program designed to get young women involved in politics early; the organization hosts retreats for high school girls, brings a select group to DC to learn about politics firsthand, promotes women running for student government on college campuses, and helps their alumni network within politics.

Engineer Girl is a product of the National Academy of Engineering designed to help young women connect with engineering in a more personal way; it also sponsors essay contests, and has resources to help young women find opportunities to engage with engineering

Girls Who Code provides computer science education to girls through a summer immersion program and school-based clubs that aim to make coding accessible to girls in the 6th-12th grades

Young Female Entrepreneurs links women in their 20’s and 30’s who aim to start their own ventures with seasoned professionals to give them advice and provide support.

Girl Start works to bring young women into STEM fields through school-based programs, professional development for teachers, STEM career fairs and expos, and community STEM education.

Girl Up is a program run by the United Nations Foundation to facilitate leadership development among young women in its chapters in the United States, who, through the program, work to improve access to healthcare and education, financial literacy, and safety for girls living in developing countries.

Girl for a Change promotes social entrepreneurship and civic engagement among young women by providing an annual summit and free after school programs that help girls identify and tackle problems in their communities.


~ by Randi Saunders on November 19, 2014.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: