Typical and Atypical
When we hear the phrase, "immigrant women" -- the typical associations bring up pictures of nannies, cleaning ladies, etc. These associations reflect life, as shown in the research-based book, Immigration and Women: Understanding the American Experience.
But the situation is changing, slowly but steadily. Thus, according to the Center for American Progress, 11 percent of immigrant women have a master's, professional, or doctorate degree, compared to 10.2 percent of the native-born. In fact, many highly educated women immigrants make remarkable headway in the US. While, statistically, these women are atypical, they make a considerable contribution to American society. For instance, let's discuss the foreign-born female former Fulbright Fellows who now live and work in America.
Fulbright Programs and American Prestige
The Fulbright Program is among the most prestigious award programs, operating in 155 countries. Founded by Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946 and sponsored by the US Government, its mission is to promote international educational exchange for students, scholars, and professionals. Forty-three Fulbright alumni have won Nobel Prizes, seventy-eight -- Pulitzer Prizes, one was a UN Secretary-General, and eighteen served as heads of states -- more than participants under any other award program. These achievements contributed to the Fulbright program's global prestige.
As a former Fulbright Scholar myself, I know first-hand about its rigorous selection process and long-lasting results -- and would like to point out that the program's impact is not restricted to scientific/educational benefits: it also educates participants about the nuts and bolts of American democracy and sky's-the-limit opportunities in the Land of the Free. I remember our group of Fulbrighters receiving tours "to the roots of democracy" and meetings with government officials. The participants from the new-to-democracy countries, like me, found it particularly impressive because soft influence goes deeper and works better than the tougher way of invading certain countries in support of their democratic trends.
The Beautiful Minds -- for America
Some foreign-born Fulbright alumni get the "American bug"; they fall in love with the US, its freedoms, opportunities, technology -- and they return, to be a part of the miracle we call America. As a result, we gain the intellectual elite in the best sense of this word: strictly meritocratic and contributing positively to American upward social mobility (which is, unfortunately, deteriorating). Let us see what exactly America gains in these former Fulbright Fellows.
• Audrey Evans, Ph.D., from UK: a woman who cares
On coming to Boston for the first time in 1953 as a Fulbright Fellow, Audrey, a doctor, caught the "American bug" of treating children in hospitals; when she discovered that there were no pediatric hospitals in England at that time, she returned to America. The rest of her life has been dedicated to caring for children with cancer. Responsible for early clinical trials of leading chemotherapy agents, Audrey developed the Evans Strategy System, to help design appropriate treatment based on the disease's stage. She became the head of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and founded the world-renowned Children's Cancer Research Center.
Notably, Audrey co-founded the first Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia in 1974, providing much-needed support for parents of treated children. Today there are 212 Ronald McDonald Houses in 20 countries. What a beautiful mind she has -- driven by compassion, which is the bedrock of our capacity to serve!
• Sophie Vandebroek, Ph.D., from Belgium: inventor and executive
Sophie got her "American bug" while a Fulbright Fellow at Cornell, admiring US technology and the stimulating international environment of the research labs. She says: "At home we were raised very humble, with a notion that we are never good enough. So I studied hard and worked hard..." Sophie now leads one of the best industry research labs, with locations around the globe--being a corporate VP, CTO of Xerox and President of Xerox Innovation group. Holding 14 US patents, she was inducted into the Women in Science and Technology International Hall of Fame.
"Being a woman in high technology was harder than being an immigrant," she admits. "Luckily, the high-tech industry remains a true meritocracy so no matter your race, gender or other aspects that make you unique, you can be successful." Sophie inspires other women to pursue high-tech careers. The executive with a beautiful mind, she is a role-model to remember.
• Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg, CFA, from Venezuela: a woman in the pursuit of Alpha
As a Fulbright-Hays Fellow, Hilda earned her MPA from John F. Kennedy School of Government and completed a doctorate at the HBS. She eventually became as Chief Investment Officer and Asset Liability Advisor at the World Bank. Most importantly, Hilda developed a process for managing uniquely competitive investment portfolios that adapt to changing market, economic, and client conditions. This innovation enabled her to found Strategic Investment Partners, an open-architecture platform company that now manages assets of $33 billion.
Her "American bug" being entrepreneurship, Hilda applied her formidable intellect to pursuing Alpha--in the investments and the lives of her clients and staff. She was twice named as one of the top 50 Smartest Women in Business in the US and included among Power 30 in Business. Called a "titan of finance", Hilda received the Fulbright Association's Lifetime Achievement Medal in 2005.
Thinking of the Future
Stereotypes stand strong. The stereotype of women as good-only-for-supporting-roles gets exacerbated when people stereotype immigrant women as only working in lower-level jobs. It's time to break both stereotypes; the "other" immigrant women demonstrate an emerging pattern of making enormous contributions to US-American society. Working in diverse competitive fields, they are strong leaders, excelling in everything they put their minds to.
It is our hope that as part of the worldwide war for talent, the upcoming immigration reform will modernize the rules for the talented professionals--men and women--making it easier for them to stay in the country, without too much red tape. Isn't it wise to vote for more brain gain, embrace our newly-found beautiful minds, and point them out as worthwhile role-models for young Americans?