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Marketplace Morning Report

Growing up as ‘the Martian’s daughter’

Jeremy Hobson Sep 26, 2012
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Marina von Neumann Whitman has been a lot of firsts. She was the first woman ever on the White House Council of Economic Advisers. She also rose to new heights for women in the corporate world.

She’s the daughter of the famous mathematician, John von Neumann who was nicknamed the Martian. And “The Martian’s Daughter,” is the name of her new memoir.

How was she able to achieve so much?

“Part of it, of course, was dumb luck,” she says, “being in the right place at the right time. But part of it, I think, had to do with my own family background.”

Being raised in the shadow of her father, however, didn’t help open any doors — if anything, it was a struggle to get out of his shadow.

In her time, von Neumann Whitman faced many challenges as a woman trying to climb the ranks of intellectual and corporate power — told by an IBM recruiter that they wouldn’t hire an engaged woman; told by the president of Princeton that she couldn’t get her PhD there because they didn’t have enough ladies’ rooms.

But she says there is still a lot of discrimination today, if not outright. “Now, I think, they may say instead ‘Well, you’re not quite right for the job; you’re underqualified; you’re overqualified…’ That personalizes, in a way that the overt discrimination didn’t.”

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