A Lesson from Hidden Figures

mv5bmjqxotkxoduyn15bml5banbnxkftztgwntu3ntm3ote-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_Hidden Figures, a true story about African-American women who provided NASA with important mathematical data need to launch its first successful space mission, should not only spark conversations about diversity and gender, but also make companies reconsider any ridiculous workplace policies that impede progress that’s critical to its success and or competitive edge. While there are a number of scenes in this critically acclaimed film to support this assertion, in order not to spoil it for those who have not seen the movie, only a concise example will be shared.

After Katherine Johnson, a genius mathematician played by Taraji P. Henson, was assigned to a new department on the other side of the NASA campus, she found herself in a horrible predicament, as there were NO restrooms for “colored” women in that building. She asked the only white female working with her where the bathroom was located, but was told “I have no idea where your bathroom is.” Nevertheless, Katherine did not complain. She dealt with it the best way she could.

img_0078As I watched with my eyes glued to the screen, I wondered whether she was going to relieve herself in an outhouse, find a nearby bush, or something because this was during the Jim Crow way of life. Since blacks and whites did not share bathrooms in that building, every time Johnson had to go pee, she hurriedly walked in high heels almost a mile and a half (in rain, sleet, or snow) back across the campus to where she used to work with a stack of papers in hand. Yes, she diligently worked on her calculations as she sat on the toilet too.

One day her boss, Al Harrison played by Kevin Costner realizes that she is MIA forty-five minutes or more almost every day, so he asks everyone in the department if anyone knows where she is. To make a long story short, eventually Harrison finds out her truth. Next in a fiery scene, he hammered down the “colored” sign near the bathroom until it hit the floor and Harrison says, “Here at NASA, we all pee the same color!” As a result, the absurd bathroom policy was no more.

If it had not been for the contributions of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, one of the greatest achievements known to humankind may have never happen or could have been further delayed. Just to be clear here, taking long bathroom breaks was not the root cause of the issue, that negatively affected NASA’s performance and productivity, ignorance was.

If there are ludicrous policies in your workplace that are keep employees from doing their job, take decisive action now. Who knows, it could make or break your organization’s success!

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