The Storytellers: 12 women shining a spotlight on women in STEM

7 Mar 2018

Image: MJgraphics/Shutterstock

Representation matters, and these people are ensuring the visibility of women in STEM by sharing their stories.

Chances are, if you’re asked to think of a name from STEM on the spot, that name will be a man’s. The history of women in STEM has not been given equal attention, and the same is true of the column inches, screen time and airwaves devoted to present-day innovators. But these authors, performers, creators and campaigners are making sure that women in STEM are not forgotten.

Michelle Cullen and Eithne Harley

Eithne Harley

From left: Eithne Harley and Michelle Cullen. Image: @EithneHarley/Twitter

Accenture’s Dr Michelle Cullen and Eithne Harley helped change 230 years of history and place the first portraits of women academics on the walls of the Royal Irish Academy as part of a campaign called Women on Walls. Now, they have turned their attention to the walls of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

Harley, who is director of integrated marketing at Accenture Ireland, has been a strong advocate for getting the stories of women in senior positions out there to encourage others, including as a council member of the Dublin Theatre Festival since 2013. Liberties native Cullen, meanwhile, has included a number of appearances at Inspirefest among her speaking engagements on inclusion and diversity, along with being Accenture’s MD sponsor on the issue.

Geena Davis

Geena Davis. Image: M Jacobson – Gonzalez/ITU Pictures/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Award-winning actor Geena Davis has done a lot to amplify stories about women by continually championing female representation on screen through her organisation, the Geena Davis Institute.

The institute publishes research on female portrayals in media, and lobbies TV and film organisations to improve gender ratios in TV and films as well as to provide better female role models for young girls to look up to.

In 2012, Davis was named the ITU’s Special Envoy for Women and Girls in the field of technology, meaning it is her responsibility to raise awareness worldwide of how ICT can empower women.

Becky Douglas, Claire Murray, Laura Tobin and Jess Wade

Claire Murray. Image: Sean Dillow | Becky Douglas. Image: @BeckyDouglas/Twitter

Having a poster project is something that defines what a person or group of people have achieved, and in the case of Dr Jess Wade, Dr Claire Murray, Laura Tobin and Becky Douglas, that’s literally the case. The four teamed up to do what many history books have failed to do: showcase a number of amazing and talented women in science.

With the internet and social media at their disposal, the group began by creating and releasing posters of leading Irish women scientists, before expanding the artistic endeavour to Scotland and Wales.

Jess Wade. Image: Imperial College London | Laura Tobin. Image: UCD

All four have achieved recognition in their own right, including ‘Laser Laura’ Tobin as co-organiser of Dublin Maker; Murray, who works for Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron science facility; Douglas, who is a gravitational-wave nerd and sci-comm enthusiast; and Wade as another prominent sci-comm enthusiast, and postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Physics and Centre for Plastic Electronics at Imperial College London.

Recently, Wade has also found fame for her facial expressions on BBC’s Newsnight after hearing a particularly sexist claim about women’s abilities.

Marie Hicks

Marie Hicks. Image: Illinois Institute of Technology

Marie Hicks is a historian of technology, gender and modern Europe at the Illinois Institute of Technology, specialising in the history of computing. Her latest book, Programmed Inequality, investigates how Britain lost its early edge in computing by discarding the majority of pioneering computer workers and experts simply because they were women. She has also written extensively about the history of gender and racial discrimination in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Currently, Hicks is working on a project that examines how transgender Britons interacted with computerised systems of the British welfare state in the 20th century.

Heather Massie

Heather Massie

Heather Massie. Image: Facebook

Heather Massie is an actor and writer based in New York City who will take to the stage at Inspirefest this summer. Her passion for science led her to study astrophysics as well as theatre, and Massie has married her love of science and performance with Hedy: The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr.

The popular one-woman show written and performed by Massie shines a light on Lamarr as a movie star as well as her incredible intelligence. Lamarr invented the technology for frequency hopping and spread spectrum, which enabled the world of wireless communication as we know it.

Elena Rossini

Elena Rossini. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Elena Rossini. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Elena Rossini is a filmmaker and creator of ‘This Is What a Film Director Looks Like’, an initiative to populate Giphy and Twitter with GIFs of women and minority film directors to increase their visibility and dispel the stereotype that people often think of when they think ‘film director’: white and male.

Rossini directed critically acclaimed documentary The Illusionists, which examines unattainable beauty standards. Her website, No Country For Young Women, also showcases interviews with hundreds of women across five continents with the aim of providing positive female role models for young girls. She has also shared the story of Lottie Dolls, dreamed up by young girls and sent to space.

Angela Saini

Angela Saini. Image: Imperial College London

Is there such thing as a ‘man’s job’? That was the question author and science journalist Angela Saini asked herself, putting these ideas up to scientific scrutiny. The result was her book Inferior, which examined studies such as whether boys naturally prefer playing with cars over dolls.

Saini’s work is now considered a leading analysis of gender stereotypes and, unsurprisingly, has shown that the idea of a woman’s role as exclusively being a homemaker is unfounded.

Saini has numerous awards to her name, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Kavli Science Journalism gold award.

Anita Sarkeesian

Anita Sarkeesian. Image: Jessica Zollman

Anita Sarkeesian. Image: Jessica Zollman

Anita Sarkeesian became well known in 2012 when she received a deluge of online harassment after raising funds for a web series that sought to critique how women are portrayed in video games. The American-Canadian cultural critic and founder of Feminist Frequency, however, is weary of the association: “It’s frustrating to be known as the woman who survived #Gamergate,” she told The Guardian.

She much prefers telling the stories of women, both contemporary and historical. Feminist Frequency hosts videos that examine how women are portrayed in pop culture. Its most recent venture, Ordinary Women: Daring to Defy History, seeks to shed light on the accomplishments of some of the most fascinating female leaders, innovators and heroes throughout history.


Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Get your Early Bird tickets now to join us in Dublin on 21 and 22 June 2018.