The Future is Female: 11 kick ass role models

The Future is Female: 11 kick ass role models
This is what a FutureHero looks like

As a women-led editorial team, we’re that happy to hear that female empowerment is firmly on the agenda right now. So we’re introducing you to 11 of our favourite female FutureHeroes who turn it up to 11, starting with the real life inspiration for ‘Charlie’ in arguably one of the best films of the 80s… Top Gun!


⚡ 1. Real life Top Gun

Christine’s call sign became ‘Charlie’

Blazing a trail for other women, Christine Fox held the highest rank ever for a woman at the Pentagon, was the first female Deputy Secretary of Defense in US history, has flown in B-52s, escaped submerged planes and provided analysis to commanders during conflict. We met up with the problem-solver to analyse exploding tech and the macho world of Top Gun:

“I never said: ‘I am going to be Deputy Secretary for Defense and I am going to break down barriers.’ The military are faced with enormous problems, so they bring the operational knowledge and I bring the math. I would never let anybody tell me I can’t work on a problem because I’m a woman.”

Interview ► This is what a true ‘Maverick’ looks like


⚡2. Hardware creative

Democratising hardware

Beirut-born engineer, interaction artist and free hardware advocate Ayah Bdeir is the creative force behind littleBits – the award-winning kit of open source electronic modules that snap together with magnets. She empowers kids to invent anything:

“When we were young, my dad got us chemistry sets, electricity kits and programming lessons, alongside dolls and playsets. My sisters and I never felt that there were any barriers in front of us because of our gender.”

Watch ► The new ‘Lego’ for lil inventors 


⚡3. Human sonic boom

Failure is not an option

Faster-talking than the speed of light, louder than a sonic boom and sparkier than a volcano, extreme ‘experience designer’ Nelly Ben Hayoun has simulated all of the above:

“Being a woman is a massive strength. The space field is about 80% men. I don’t want to have men deciding for me. We must be up there, it’s not even a question. My ‘FuturePower’ would be to be the woman who makes it to become the Head of NASA or ESA.”

Enter ► Nelly’s astronomical hyperreal world


⚡4. Saint of E-waste

Ex-inmates break down electronics

With Homeboy Recycling Kabira Stokes is giving a second chance to the things our society sees as disposable – ‘throwaway’ people and trash:

“Find that thing that you want to tackle deep in your heart, that wacky idea that you have about how you can help our world adapt to climate change, or whatever your issue is, and go for it.”

Watch ► Reshape what you think is trash


⚡5. Pirate poet-ician

“You can never beat the activist out of me”

Hacker, activist, geek and poet Birgitta Jónsdóttir founded Iceland’s Pirate Party – a movement of anarchists and techies that asks for direct democratic reform beyond party politics.

“We have to be Robin Hoods of power.  This democracy is a myth that we have to destroy. I’m primarily an activist and a hacktivist within the parliament. I have never really fully understood that I’m a parliamentarian!”

Interview ► We can all participate


⚡6. Heroine of VR

Welcome to Samantha’s imagination

Pictured on set with Beastie Boy Adam Yauch RIP in 2004, producer Samantha Storr keeps a low profile, but is the woman behind top directors Terry Gilliam, Chris Milk, Spike Jonze and Robert Redford.

“The purpose of storytelling has always been to bring humans closer together. With VR, when you stick a camera rig in the middle of a crowd, you’re immersing the viewer in the scenario. Suddenly, the audience isn’t watching anymore. They’re experiencing.”

Watch ► The evolution of VR


⚡7. STEM Wonder Woman

Serious tech know-how

In Obama’s White House biomedical scientist and #BlackGirlMagic ambassador Dr. Knatokie Ford worked to raise the visibility and improve the image of STEM and to help promote diversity. We chatted to the bright lipstick-lover about why shows like CSI are essential, her Obama water cooler moment and sharing the stage with Pharrell;

“I am a scientist. I am a strategist. And I am a black woman. Today there is a greater sense of people wanting to be activists. You don’t have to be a part of a big organisation. You as an individual have the ability to do something.”

Interview ► Knatokie makes math-wizardry cool


8. Soft robot Iron Woman

Iron Man meets an octopus

Nearly ten years ago in the Tuscan seaside town of Livorno, a robotics researcher asked her father to catch her an octopus. Cecilia Laschi knew that a different bodyware was needed in robotics. The Professor went on to create an Octobot which can sense, squeeze and grab just like the real thing:

“The prospects of soft robotics are enormous and open the way to scenarios that so far have been impossible to imagine. An octopus with eight wiggly arms is very difficult to design and control.”

AtlasChart ► Top 5 soft robots of the future


⚡9. Sister against sexism

Women are shouting back

Every day, women across the world are insulted, ignored or assaulted simply because of their gender. Award-winning journalist Laura Bates created an online project to catalogue those daily instances. #EverydaySexism has become a worldwide phenomenon from Pakistan to Mexico:

“Stick together! The biggest success stories from young women challenging sexism are from those who get together as a group and call it out. You don’t have to do it alone.”

Read ► No more modern day misogyny


⚡10. Literary mini-activist

Football-loving “girlie tomboy” bookworm Marley Dias

Meet bookworm Marley Dias. Bored of only reading about “white boys and their dogs” at school, she launched a book drive and collected books from around the world with one thing in common. They all represented black girls or “girls like me”.

“Being a kid opens doors for me. I want to blaze a trail for other girls. Kids should be able to help create the rules. I would like to tell the girls who don’t think they can make a difference that you can!”

Meet ► Marley and her #1000blackgirlsbooks


⚡11. Moonshot CEO

Doing good is good business

Space buff, scuba diver, pilot and CEO of XPRIZE’s Global Development; Mumbai-born Zenia Tata was inspired to do good by her grandmother who contributed in slum areas. Today Zenia designs world-changing prizes to aid disadvantaged populations and tackles women’s safety:

“I was an entrepreneur five years before we even knew we had a place in the world! Most of the people on our planet don’t live in the western hemisphere and we have to design a future not just for them, but with them.”

Watch ► We hung out with Zenia in LA


⚡12. Transparent radical

Every product has a story

Jessi Baker is the woman behind Provenance, a software company that uses novel technologies like the blockchain to help businesses share information about the people, places and materials involved in their products. It’s all about revolutionising trust:

“Blockchain is getting a lot of hype, but essentially it’s a fancy database. If radical transparency becomes the norm, then we’ll really be moving towards a fantastic new phase for sustainability, which I’m personally very excited about.”

Watch ► You can trust Jessi

(OK, in the name of transparency, we’ll admit it. We gave you 12.)


Our FutureHeroes were talking to Atlas Editor Lisa Goldapple. Read more interviews here

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