Casting the Female Lead

Contributed by Nell Merlino

If you were casting a movie about your own life, who would you say has had the most influence on you?

The answer is so different and surprising whenever I pose that question. Inspiration can come via such diverse sources which is why I am so passionate about a new educational resource available for free to schools across the country which showcases and explores a huge and varied range of female success stories. (More about that later, but to secure your free copy go to

For me, at just 11 years old I was a witness to Voting Right’s activist, Fannie Lou Hamer’s valiant attempted to desegregate the all-white Mississippi delegation at the 1964 Democratic Convention. Dolores Huerta, Farm Workers Union leader was one of the few vocal women at demonstrations and picket lines that I joined as a union organizer. Gloria Steinem, I had the privilege of working with her side by side at the launch of Take Our Daughters to Work Day. Three women inspired me to become an activist and helped me see a path to an amazing life of changing the way women and girls see their value at work, in their own businesses and in the world.

This year I have had the opportunity to make new friends in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. They were inspired by different people and moments in history.  

 Did you know?

  • When her family couldn’t afford to buy her a telescope Maggie Aderin found a way to make her own grinding and polishing the mirrors. She knew that people went into space and wanted to get there too. Now a Space scientist, Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock earned her PhD in mechanical engineering at Imperial College London and is a host of one the longest running BBC TV shows on astronomy called “The Sky at Night”.
  • MIT Engineer and entrepreneur Limor Fried has more than 34 million YouTube views and over 207,000 subscribers. She hosts multiple shows including “Electronics Show and Tell” and “Ask an Engineer”. Her company Adafruit, which is named after Ada Lovelace the woman who created the first algorithm and computer program, is ranked No.11 among the top 20 U.S. manufacturing companies.

  • Dame Athene Donald practiced getting over her painful shyness before going to college. The Queen of England recently approved her appointment to the Mastership of Churchill College, Cambridge where she is a Professor of Experimental Physics.

  • At 8 years old Dr. Cori Bargmann watched a man land on the moon. She was fascinated by space and science and wanted to understand everything. That is why she became a neuroscientist. Dr. Cornelia ‘Cori’ Bargmann leads the Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior at Rockefeller University in New York. She was appointed by President Obama to co-chair the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, (BRAIN) Initiative.  

    Photography by Brigitte Lacombe

 The Female Lead

Inspired by astronauts on TV and the first computer programmer from 1843 they have become leaders in their fields. None of them became actual astronauts but all of them have impact on millions of lives sharing their knowledge and discoveries on TV, YouTube, in the classroom, in commerce, and in laboratories.  

Ogden and PupilsI have the privilege of being bound together with them in an incredible book called The Female Lead. The book is available to teachers and their schools for FREE at Girls and parents can order the book on behalf of their schools and teachers too. It contains the complete profiles of the women in science and engineering just introduced to you along with 55 more amazing women in the arts, activism, business, sports, politics, journalism, education and philanthropy. There are great videos of woman and teaching materials available on the web site. The teaching materials were written by Dr. Vanessa Ogden, Head Teacher, Mulberry School for Girls in London.  

Founded by UK entrepreneur, Edwina Dunn, The Female Lead highlights the breath of female achievement for future generations. Edwina partnered with world renowned photographer, Brigitte Lacombe, to create powerful portraits that shine a light on both the famous and the lesser known successes of women. Videographer, Marian Lacombe, created the inspiring and revealing videos that can give girls the guidance and the confidence to be themselves.

Edwina is a data science entrepreneur who has always been fascinated by people’s stories and motivations. She has created an immediate remedy for any girl who is seeking inspiration and wanting to know how you start to be the lead in her own life. I am grateful to Edwina, Brigitte and Marian for creating this beautiful book and platform that binds 60 women together for millions of girls to see.

Nell Merlino, began her career as a union activist, set up her own communications business, and has worked on various political campaigns, and on many projects that support women in business and leadership. These include Take Our Daughters to Work Day, which she created in 1993, and which has since inspired millions of girls – and, since 2003, boys too.

In 1999 she founded Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, now the leading US not-for-profit provider of resources for women who want to grow their businesses. She is also chair of the Personal Data Independence Trust at Personal BlackBox, a company that champions personal data independence.