6 March 2020
Sunday is International Women’s Day 2020. We wanted the floor to be open to the amazing and determined female members of the Right Angles team to talk about the women who’ve inspired and influenced them: but IWD should be for everyone, so the men have chipped in too, with icons from high-profile politicians to their own spouses setting shining examples.
Inspiration is a very personal emotion, so the range of subjects is no surprise. We hope we all inspire each other, even just a little bit, as we battle through the week’s work, but it’s always good to have someone to look up to and think, “If I could be like them…”
Oxman is, without doubt, ahead of her time – she leads the Mediated Matter research group at MIT Media Lab, where computational design, digital fabrication, materials science and synthetic biology are bridged to design materials of the future.
She has carved a niche for groundbreaking work by exploring the worlds of science and design. Following three years in the Israeli air force, Neri went on to train as a medical doctor for two years before training to be an architect in Haifa and London. After getting her diploma from the Architectural Association, she proceeded to receive a PhD in Design Computation at MIT where her diverse knowledge has merged into a holistic philosophy of material ecology.
Her fascinating work originating from her varied background is a great reminder of how important it is to nurture curiosity and to be open to weaving diverse ideas together in search for something truly unique.
There were certain “expectations” about whom I was going to choose. Most of my first instincts were obscure (Julian of Norwich, Vittoria Colonna, Sarah Churchill) but I was reminded just how much I admire the quiet, slightly geeky, but fiercely intelligent foreign policy expert who stepped out of the safety of academia to become first George W. Bush’s national security advisor, then his secretary of state.
Dr Rice is unflashy and doesn’t crave the limelight, but she’s hard as nails underneath: born into a segregated South, she saw a classmate killed when a black church was firebombed, and it was drummed into her that, as a black woman, she had to be at least twice as good as any other candidate for a job. That was a challenge she measured up to. She was awarded her BA at 19, and became a PhD at 26, her thesis on the military situation in Czechoslovakia.
Rice is a strange mixture of conservative and liberal. She took a tough line on terrorism, seemed untroubled by waterboarding, and supports Second Amendment Rights; but she is in favour of liberality in abortion access, and told the Republican Party Convention in 2000, “My father joined our party because the Democrats in Jim Crow Alabama of 1952 would not register him to vote. The Republicans did.” She’s fought hard for women’s advocacy. In short, she has played by her own rules, forged by her own experiences, according to her own beliefs. Whether you agree with her or not, that seems to me an admirable way to live. If only more of our public figures would follow suit.
There are countless women who provide me with inspiration on a daily basis, it is difficult to pick just one to write about. The women directly in my life include my mum, who is the kindest person I know. She instilled in me the importance of hard-work, determination and love. She inspires me to be the best version of myself that I can be and supports my every move. My best friend, who is incredibly strong, intelligent and is always there with a smile no matter what. My other amazing female role models are Audrey Hepburn, who astounds with her endless optimism; Jacinda Ardern, an amazing role model for world leaders; and Emma Watson, an accomplished actor and humanitarian. We really are lucky to be surrounded by so many brave, powerful and all-around amazing women.
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some fantastic women throughout my career. One interview I did a few years back was with Gina Miller, whom I’d originally encountered on my finance beat as a multi-award winning wealth manager. She’s now better known as the woman who sued the government over its disregard for democratic process in relation to Brexit – and won. Regardless of your view on the UK’s exit from the EU, Gina represents the fortitude and principle that many groups in the UK on both sides of the debate have been sorely lacking. Her own views are clear but secondary to her resolution that parliamentary sovereignty comes first.
For me, what is most striking is her determination. She has suffered the most horrific abuse but when it would have been easier to walk away from her cause she held fast, and she has won. An inspiration for every British citizen.
Candid and at times painfully funny, I love her writing, her humour, her flaws. Her books detailed her upbringing, her relationships, her brutally honest struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction. She was intelligent, fierce and talented, but above all she was a skilled storyteller. I didn’t need to have lived her Hollywood lifestyle to be able to relate to her.
She was also the gateway to other great women – Nora Ephron, Dorothy Parker – each known for their biting wit and ability to challenge social norms, and each carving a niche for themselves in the male-dominated environments of newsrooms and movie studios. More than this, they were able to transform their often tragic experiences into art. As Carrie once said: “If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”
My wife’s fight for a career in journalism, one that she’d dreamed of since she was young, has inspired not just me, but every single employer who’s ever interviewed her. Her parents told her she had a matter of months to find a job in journalism after finishing her degree, before she needed to give up and find another career. So she landed a month-long unpaid internship at BBC Breakfast. But at the end of that month, where most people would’ve begun looking for something else, she just carried on turning up. Again, and again, and again – working for free. She kept putting in the work, helping out where she could, until eventually they thought, “We should probably start paying her.”
After that, she took a leap of faith and took a job at the BBC in Guernsey – an island she’d never even heard of before, just so she could break into the industry. Fast forward seven years, and she’s a senior journalist working for the BBC World Service, giving talks at her old university, being flown out for talks to radio stations around the world, all while pregnant with our daughter. Nothing slows her down. She never doubts herself, and ignores barriers – she inspires me because without her I’d never have achieved what I have today without her behind me, pushing me to strive for more.
“What happened to the dream of a girl president? She’s dancing in the video next to 50 Cent.” I grew up listening to Pink’s music and I’ve always admired how she has pushed the limits of pop convention by writing songs about real world issues as well as her own life experiences.
Even off stage, she’s regularly seen addressing femininity, gender roles and beauty standards and has contributed to a wave of feminism. I love that she expresses her views through humour, but always with an element of realness. Her emotional anecdote about body image at the VMA’s was worlds apart from the usual cliche acceptance speeches which is what makes it so powerful. We need more musicians like Pink!
My mum instilled in me a real work ethic, but also a fiercely strong loyalty to family. “Family first, always,” she says. She was widowed in August last year and handled everything with grace and dignity, determined to help those around her rather than give in to her grief. She’s the strongest woman I know. She also told me to “always do what you say you’re going to do” – advice that has helped me in my work and my life.
Swisher is a New York Times columnist, founder of All Things D and editor-at-large of Recode. She was a tech journalist before tech journalism was a thing; forcing the Washington Post to hire her after they did some crappy reporting and she thought she could do better, and later launching the WSJ’s first online blog in the late 1990s. She got where she is today by working harder than everyone else in the room – and not giving a damn what other people think.
Swisher doesn’t suffer fools, and her interview style is as entertainingly blunt as it is effective. Remember the last ever time Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were on a stage together? When Elon Musk first teased a Blade-Runner-esque pick up truck? Or when Mark Zuckerberg said Holocaust deniers should be allowed on Facebook? All these were interviews Swishes did. She is a conversational maverick; getting tech CEOs in the iconic Recode red chair to make a notable blunder – without them even know they’re doing it! Her unabashed style, from the wry tone to the aviator sunglasses, makes her an absolute badass.