A Woman-less World of Innovation

Today is International Women’s Day. People all over the world will gather to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. 

With this many are also participating in “A Day without a Woman”.  The goal of the protest is to help recognize the value that women from all backgrounds have added to our socio-economic system. These contributions have been in spite of barriers and walls such as lower wages, job insecurity, discrimination, sexual harassment and overall gender inequality.

However, what if we imagined every day was a day without a woman? What would society have looked like without the contributions of women? More specifically – where would the digital health and healthcare world be without women today?  Let us take a trip back in history and look at some of the early women, who helped lay the foundation for the innovative world we live in today.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), also known as the “Lady with the Lamp”, is most well known for being the founder of modern nursing. During this time women were expected to live a life fully focused on the success of their marriage and family. However, this didn’t stop Florence from growing to her full potential and educating herself in various ways when it came to academics, health and hospitals. Throughout her life she became a superintendent of a hospital in London, helped integrate nurses into military hospitals and in 1860 established the first professional training school for nurses. Through all her efforts, Florence Nightingale eventually transformed nursing into an honorable profession for women, and those that followed. Along with her contributions to medicine and healthcare, Florence Nightingale was the first woman to be elected into the Royal Statistical Society and is also credited for the invention of the modern pie chart.

Clara Barton (1821-1912) is most well known for the founding of today’s American Red Cross. Through her service during the Civil War, and travels and service with the Red Cross in Europe, Clara Barton was inspired and eager to bring her passion back with her to the United States. Through her hard work and dedication, the American Red Cross was founded in the early 1880’s, receiving their first charter in 1990. Currently the American Red Cross has thousands of volunteers caring for those in need in areas such as disaster relief, lifesaving blood, training and certification services, military services and international services. Breaking down the barriers in various areas, Barton fought strongly for women’s civil rights, was among some of the first women to gain employment within the federal government, and even became an educator during a time when schools were filled and run by men.

Marie Curie (1867-1934), most well known for her work and discoveries in radiation, broke the barriers of gender norms throughout her life and career. In 1891, Marie obtained her Licentiateships in Physics and Mathematical Science. In 1894, she met her husband Pierre Curie, who she passed professionally, becoming the Head of the Physics Laboratory at the Sorbonne. After her husband’s death in 1906, Marie took over as Professor of General Physics in the Faculty of Sciences, becoming the first woman to hold this position. Throughout her career Curie received recognition and membership to societies all over the world. Receiving two Nobel Prizes, one in 1903 in conjunction with her husband and Antoine Henri Becquerel for their work in radiation, and another in 1911 in Chemistry for her own work in radioactivity; Curie sure left her mark and knowledge on the world.

Gertrude Belle Elion (1918-1999) is most well known for her research and work that some say revolutionized both the pharmaceutical and medical world.  Watching her grandfather die of cancer at a young age, Elion devoted her life to fighting the disease. Describing herself as “a child with an insatiable thirst for knowledge”, Elion took full advantage of her academic opportunities which later shifted to professional opportunities. After schooling Elion had trouble finding work in a laboratory as a woman. However, during World War II there was lack of chemists in the workforce, giving Elion the small window she needed.  Her professional career took off from there.  Most commonly known for her systematic method of producing drugs along with her successes in leukemia treatment, Elion also helped create drugs that were used to fight malaria, infections, gout and organ transplants.

Now imagine if today’s world did not have these innovative brains. Imagine if these women did not break the “glass ceiling” that lay in front of them. Imagine if they didn’t go against the grain of the gender industry norms of their time. Imagine if women since then and today did not follow in their footsteps. Would we be where we are today? Would YOU be where YOU are today?