UNDERGRADUATE ADMISSIONS at WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY in ST. LOUIS

Women in STEM Panel

My favorite thing about being a STEM major is the fact that I am a woman majoring in STEM. I love that I defied the odds and chose a major that is usually chosen by men. Everyday, I’m reminded that I am serving as a representation that it can be done. I am sure I’m not the only woman in STEM who feels this way. It is extremely empowering when we come together and motivate young girls to pursue careers in STEM and show them that there is nothing to be discouraged about!

On November 12th, I was given the wonderful opportunity to serve on a panel with other women in STEM as a part of the organization called Women Leading Technology. This organization is a non-profit technology sorority founded by Kelly Flowers and is based in Dallas, Texas. The goal of this sisterhood is to help young ladies map out a future in the technology industry. “Servant Leadership in Diversity and Inclusion — Creating Circles of Service” was a virtual panel to address the critical disparity that women who pursue STEM-based courses and STEM professions face. For a video recap of the panel click here or keep reading below to learn about some of the questions that were asked and my take on them. 

 The following question was asked to start the panel off: 

“Understanding that you are fully committed to supporting young women in STEM, what do diversity, inclusion, and equity look like for you?”

I believe this is a very important thing to consider because many people have different opinions of what diversity, inclusion, and equity look like. For me, it is about making sure that not only everyone has a seat at the table, but they’re all eating the same meal and are equally nourished. Oftentimes I feel like if a company or school meets a quota, then they think: “Okay, we’re all good! We’re diverse!”. But the questions that come to my mind are: “Are you really diverse? Are the coworkers/students listening to everyone when they speak? Does everyone have a chance to speak? Do women and minorities have a voice? Are their ideas and perspectives being considered? Or are they just there to make the company look good?”

I feel like diversity, inclusion, and equity are more than just the number of women or minorities on a team. If the team is diverse but discrimination is still happening, has the goal really been met? I believe that diversity is achieved once women and minorities are not overlooked within the workplace. I also believe that diversity and inclusion is fulfilled when the people holding leadership positions are diverse. It’s one thing to hire a diverse team, but are they going to stay stagnant and have no upward mobility? There should be women in positions of power because that is when real change will start to happen.

The other panelists had very insightful things to say regarding that question. Hearing their answers gave me the confidence to share my experiences in STEM when answering the following question:

“Considering the current experiences of young women pursuing STEM professions and those entering STEM fields, do they feel adequately supported? What has worked or not worked, and how can they be better served? What do they need more of that maybe they are not getting and what is their perspective on giving back?”

Just because I am a woman in STEM does not mean I am included. At my previous institution, I’ve had experiences in some classes where my ideas and perspectives were not considered by my peers. I gave my thoughts on a problem, and they were either shut down immediately or my peers simply did not listen to me. What was even worse was oftentimes my answer ended up being correct. After years of being with the same classmates, they began to realize I’m smart and I know what I’m talking about. They began to ask me for help on assignments. This was frustrating for me. Why was I the only one who had to “prove” myself? Why did I have to show my peers that I make good grades for them to want to work with me? They didn’t doubt our male classmates, so why doubt me?

I feel like women in STEM majors can better be supported if we had more female professors or TA’s for our classes. I’ve noticed that the classes that have been the most memorable and left the greatest impression on me were taught by women. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Being able to identify with your teacher or manager is extremely important. This will also show the men in the class that our female professor mastered this subject. While I have had some negative experiences as a woman pursuing STEM, I am grateful for them. They have pushed me to move forward and prove the people who doubted me wrong. Having internal motivation is important, but that extra external motivation has made me try that much harder. 

I enjoyed listening to the other panelists’ views on this question. It was interesting because we are all from different generations and have different experiences. The last question that I thought was important was: 

“As we consider the evolution of servant leadership in diversity, inclusion, and equity, how do we think of new ways to elevate our level of service? How can we do a better job of putting our words into action, i.e. challenge ourselves and each other to become more active and tactical?”

For me, it is about being there for each other. This means we need to stick up for women at all times. If we are all in a work meeting and we are observing that women don’t have a voice or they are constantly being interrupted, then we need to speak up. In other words, we should call out sexism and unfair actions that happen to women on the team. We have to create an environment where discriminating amongst women is frowned upon, not ignored. Since women having to “prove” themselves has become such a norm, I believe that breaking this down is the first step, as well as challenging our male counterparts. I’ve noticed that men don’t like it when they are challenged. When we take charge and become more assertive, it catches them off guard. This creates an opportunity for us to show our capability.

Another important thing we as women can do is hold events like this panel! Having these transparent, open, and honest conversations are very important. It reminds us that we are not alone. It is easy to feel like all of the weight is being put on your shoulders and you have to carry it all by yourself. But if we are there for one another to help carry that weight, it becomes so much lighter. 

I felt so whole and complete after participating in this panel. It was inspiring to hear women talk about overcoming the obstacles we face being in the STEM world. I look forward to doing more events with Women Leading Technology!