We are Standing on Their Shoulders

Insights The Exceptions Book

The Exceptions is a must-read for women (and men) of all generations who are open to an unvarnished view of gender inequality in science and engineering as told through a real-life account of one group of courageous women who took on the system. Written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Kate Zernicke, the book chronicles systemic discrimination against senior female scientists at the esteemed Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the institution’s eventual admission – in 1999 – of its discriminatory practices perpetrated by top male scientists at MIT and elsewhere.

An exceptionally well-told story which is at once captivating, shocking, intensely maddening… scratch that, infuriating, and truly inspirational, The Exceptions spotlights the life and career of Nancy Hopkins, a brilliant molecular biologist, her awakening to the reality of discrimination, its impact on her career and the professional paths of all women in science, and her decision to fight against overwhelming defiance and opposition.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The history of women in the workplace is engrossing and likely familiar to many of us who have our own stories or those told by mothers and grandmothers. (My mother went to work as a Systems Engineer at IBM upon graduating from Mount Holyoke College in the early 1950s. Once she became pregnant with my sister, she was forced to leave her job.) The MIT story brings this history into stark and unforgiving light, yet also imbues the spirit with hope in the power of women! 

Nancy Hopkins and all who have come before us have inspired and moved mountains so that we can be where we are today. Each new generation of emboldened women – along with the men who support harnessing the strengths of all of us – will be well-served by knowing her story.