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3 Powerful Lessons from Hidden Figures

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Based on the historically accurate book written by Margaret Lee Shelterly, Hidden Figures, directed by Ted Medfli is a film that stirs your soul with admiration and inspiration for the three trailblazing African-American heroines who worked as mathematicians at NASA during the early years of the space program back in the early 1960s.

While the movie may not be remembered for cinematography breakthroughs, its storyline spotlights the tenacity, bravery and intelligence of three remarkable women;  Katherine Goble (later Johnson), Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn who face a double standard of workplace sexism and racism.  Against all odds, these three remarkable women succeed in making vital contributions to the space program and breaking down career barriers.

A movie with many themes, here are my three key takeaways:

1.   Ask For What You Want and Need

Katherine Noble, a math prodigy, receives a new assignment to calculate launch coordinates and the trajectory for the rocket Atlas.  She receives a cold unwelcoming reception from her white male colleagues, Paul Stafford in particular, who attempts to limit her access to important information and meetings.

But she fights.  She asks to be present at the meetings critical for her calculations. With no security clearance and despite the fact she is a woman, she prevails and while at the meeting performs the necessary math critical to the success of the mission.

Research shows that most people underestimate the power of asking for help or for what they need.  So if there are barriers to in your way to success, ask for what you need.

2.  Become Indispensable and then Leverage Your Power for the Greater Good

Dorothy Vaughn faces many hurdles at NASA but doesn’t let discrimination or new technology block her pathway to success.  

She learns that her department may become obsolete and be replaced by a new IBM mainframe.  Undeterred by the threat of new technology, she proactively learns how to program this new machine and teaches her female colleagues the new software as well.

When it is discovered that Vaughn actually knows how to successfully program the IBM, she receives an immediate offer to move into a new role teaching others, her white male colleagues. Instead of accepting the position,  she leverages her expertise using a tough negotiation tactic by requesting that all of her already-trained female colleagues join her in this new department.  Not only does she advance her own career, but she also becomes a change agent for all women at NASA.

3.   Be Willing to Be the First

Mary Jackson blocked from advancing her career at NASA because she lacked an engineering degree sets out to acquire the necessary schooling to achieve her dreams. The hurdles ahead appear insurmountable, especially since she would have to attend an all-white school which would require a judge’s approval and where she would become the first African American to do so in the height of segregation.

Despite these monumental odds, Jackson presents an argument that appeals to the Judge’s personal history and story.  Prepared, she approaches the bench, and asks the judge,  “Out of all the cases you’re going to hear today, which one is going to matter one hundred years from now? Which one is going to make you the first?”

To her surprise, she is granted permission with a caveat that it is only the night school.  


Women pioneers are critical to the advancement of our society.  We need trailblazers, who despite immense oppression, demonstrate the tenacity and resiliency to shatter false stereotypes.  If you haven’t seen, Hidden Figures, I highly recommend it.  While it should have been made 50 years ago, the empowering messages are poignant and important for young girls and women today.  A heartfelt thanks and tribute to the work of  Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn.

The following contains an affiliate link where I may earn some revenue at no extra cost to you.

More Resources

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race



The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander



The Spark and the Grind: Ignite the Power of Disciplined Creativity



Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful – No Matter What by Srikumar S. Rao



Play Your Bigger Game by Rick Tamlyn




10. In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney
Kindle Version


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