Hidden No More: Here’s how the State Department is Empowering International Women Leaders in STEM

October 29, 2018

The award-winning film Hidden Figures inspired viewers across the world with the true story of the courageous and talented African American women whose contributions at NASA in the 1960s significantly contributed to getting the first U.S. astronaut into orbit. This momentum sparked an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in 2017 that brought 48 women leaders who represent “hidden talent” in their home countries to the United States to explore U.S. efforts to prepare women and girls for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

In October 2018, 49 more women leaders from around the world arrived in the United States to begin the second year of the Hidden No More program, now including professionals in the arts. The project began in Washington, D.C. and continued in eight U.S. cities, closing in Los Angeles. The women participated in workshops, and met with organizations related to their fields, like the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics and Laboratory, National Geographic, and the Geena Davis Institute, to cultivate relationships with their American counterparts and examine women’s contributions to STEAM.

How #HiddenNoMore Began

Throughout 2017, U.S. Embassies and Consulates in more than 100 countries screened the movie Hidden Figures for international audiences, generating discussions on racial equality, gender equality, and women in STEM careers. These successful screenings inspired an IVLP,  Hidden No More: Empowering Women Leaders in STEM.

During the first round of the three-week project in October 2017, the women leaders traveled to 11 U.S. cities ranging from Syracuse, Washington D.C., and Pensacola in the east to Louisville, Lincoln, and Chicago in the heartland, to Albuquerque, Seattle, and Los Angeles in the West.

Participants returned home with new ideas to put into action.

Dr. Jessica Wade pledged to write one Wikipedia page a day to highlight women in STEAM. Over 300 Wiki pages later, Jess is recognized around the world for this effort and many others, she was awarded the Daphne Jackson Medal and Prize for acting as an internationally recognized ambassador of STEAM. Some of the participants have created a new website to track activities they’re creating to stir interest in STEM careers. Others are hosting local events to promote women in STEM, such as alumna physicist Sandra Alvarenga. She showed an audience in San Salvador clear examples of STEM programs for young women that could be replicated by the State Department’s American Spaces network.

Participants explored best practices in the effective recruitment, training, and development of women and other underrepresented groups in STEM and learned how they can institutionalize opportunities for women in their own countries. The film’s distributor, 20th Century Fox through 21CF Impact, provides significant support to the project, arranging programs at both National Geographic and at the studios in Los Angeles for the participants.

Two of the stars of Hidden Figures, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer, voiced their support for the program on Twitter. A third project will launch in October 2019. Follow the group's journey on social media at #HiddenNoMore.