Cracks in Glass Ceilings Women Make Strides in STEM, Sports

Despite the amazing progress women have made in attaining equality, there are two areas in which women still noticeably lag: the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and in administrative and coaching jobs on professional sports teams. However, last week these glass ceilings were cracked when Maryam Mirzakhani was given the Fields Medal, the highest award that can be bestowed upon a mathematician, and Becky Hammon was named assistant coach to the San Antonio Spurs.

The Fields Medal, sometimes called the “Nobel Prize of mathematics,” has been awarded to up to four mathematicians every four years since 1936. On August 13, 2014, at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul, South Korea, Maryam Mirzakhani became the first woman to receive this honor. Originally from Iran, Mirzakhani is a professor at Stanford University. She also broke new ground when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted his congratulations and a photograph of her without a veil. (In Iran, women cannot go out in public without wearing at least a headscarf.) Perhaps Mizakhani’s newfound fame will also encourage Iran to rethink its policies toward education. While women in Iran are permitted to attend college and the number of women in universities actually exceeds that of men, women are also barred from many majors, a significant number of them in STEM fields. As a result, many women are leaving the country to seek educational and economic opportunities elsewhere. Mirazakhani’s success is not only an inspiration to women around the world interested in STEM but may also serve as a reminder of what countries lose when they deny women equal access to education and jobs.

Meanwhile, in San Antonio Becky Hammon was named the first-ever, full-time woman to be assistant coach to the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. Many praised the team for appointing this highly-qualified and talented individual to such an impressive position. However, others have expressed disbelief and even outright hostility toward Hammon. This sexism is disturbing, but it also serves to highlight just how much difficulty women can face when they dare to do what no woman has done before. The backlash that Hammon has received shows not only how far we’ve come, but how far we still have to go. And despite the criticism, Hammon isn’t backing down. In an interview with USA Today, she bluntly stated, “I know who I am…When you get comfortable with yourself like that and you know you’re doing the right thing, you can take a lot of crap.”

We should applaud these women not only for their remarkable accomplishments but also for paving the way for more women to follow in their footsteps. When women can see other women achieving goals that may have seemed impossible, it gives them hope to pursue their own aspirations. Thanks to trailblazers like Mirzakhani and Hammon, someday soon it may be commonplace to see women recognized in STEM, sports, and many other lines of work that are currently dominated by men.