Google Teams Up With ‘Hidden Figures’ to Bust Stereotypes

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Google is hoping the stereotype-busting message in the new film Hidden Figures will encourage more women and people of color to study computer science.

The film, which hit theaters Friday, tells the true story of African-American mathematicians Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) who overcame racism to play critical roles in NASA’s space program in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s. It’s adapted from Margot Lee Shetterly’s book by the same title. The women in the film are called computers for calculating the math that launches shuttles and rockets into space.

Google is showing Hidden Figures to students across the country and it has created a coding project around the film’s uplifting message to change popular perception about what computer science is and what computer scientists look like.

“It’s such a phenomenal story of these incredible women,” said Lauren Baum who works for Google’s Made with Code program that teaches basic coding to girls. “When you see it and when you see their energy and their passion and the fact that they actually were the people behind launching John Glenn into space, that is something that students everywhere will really aspire to.”

Women and people of color are frequently “hidden figures” in the tech industry, too. The film is being released as Silicon Valley faces growing pressure to bring greater diversity to the ranks of those building technology and working for tech companies. Seven out of 10 Google employees are men, the status quo for major Silicon Valley technology companies. Also largely unrepresented in the tech sector are African Americans and Latinos, particularly in technical and leadership roles.

That’s a pressing problem for Google and the industry at large. Latino and African-American buying power is on the rise and Silicon Valley companies have ambitions that lap the globe. Having women and underrepresented minorities brainstorming and building, not just using, tech products is quickly becoming a business imperative.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Jessica Guynn