Now… I know there is no shortage of diversity articles and posts about women in STEM. However, as of late, diversity in STEM fields has been heavily on my mind. Tonight I had the privilege to speak at a Power Hour for women and non-binary students in STEM at Eastern Washington University, my alma mater. Three other women alumni and I shared with this (larger than expected) group of students our experiences going through STEM classes and how we have transitioned into the industry. The goal was to give the students a heads up on the reality of the world which they are already starting to experience in college. The fact that sexism still exists. Biases still exist. Imposter syndrome is real and they are not alone if they experience it. More importantly, this event was meant to inspire these amazing students to persevere in their fields. To not give up. To know that the struggle is worth it. The road may be hard, but we will be making these fields better. Stronger. The perspectives brought by each and every one of the students present will only improve the projects, team, department, and company they join.
Looking out at those who attended the event as I spoke I realized how diverse this one room really was. There was a beautifully diverse set of backgrounds, ages, races, heights, weights, styles, and hair colors present. It was incredible to be part of. This group moved me to share the following advice to those up and coming minority students passionate about STEM.
Join a community
Get involved in local groups that are interested in what you are interested in. Like Ruby programming? Join the local Ruby User Group. Any city you are in should have user groups or tech or STEM groups or organizations you can be a part of. Go to their meetings. Volunteer at their events. Get on the board. Have your voice heard. Some good Spokane area groups to check out related to computer science:
- Inland Northwest Technologists
- Build Guild
- Spokane SQL Server User Group
- Spokane Geek Girls
- Spokane 2600
Remote user groups are also a great option:
Can’t find a group the lines up with your interests in your area? Start one!
Not only will this help you network and meet people, you also are helping your own skills and fueling your own passions. This will help build up your resume, but more importantly it will help keep you going in this industry when times get tough.
Mentors, sponsors, and coaches
Find a mentor. Find a coach. Find a sponsor. What’s the difference? There are some great articles that discuss the differences in detail, such as here:
- “Coaches, Mentors, and Sponsors: Understanding the Differences”
- “Mentorship vs. Sponsorship, and How to Maximize Both” by Louise Pentland
The basic differences boils down to this:
You want all three if you can get them. People you trust who are willing to give you advice, feedback, and talk you up to others who will ultimately help you advance your career. These people who are further in their career than you are. They can show you the ropes and help talk you through situations that come up as you move into industry yourself. As you are on your path, even while still in school, mentor and coach those who follow you. Give back! Share what you have learned. You may not be far in on your path yet, but you are further along than some. Support other women in your field. The only way we will reach equality in STEM will be when we help each other get there.
I truly believe that each of us has a unique level of awesome to bring to wherever we go and whatever we do. It’s so important that we each tap into that. Bring out our individual perspectives, our own way of solving problems. Just because no one else thinks the same as us doesn’t mean that our view is invalid. Could be no one else thought of it because they never met anyone who’s brought the same level of diversity to the table. Don’t change who you are because you don’t look like the rest of the industry. Don’t change who you are because people expect women to look/act/talk/feel like something you are not. Yes, there are still some games that might need to be played to get to where you want to be. But be mindful so you don’t lose yourself for people or a company or a project that may ultimately not be worth it. If you are authentic and true to your core, people will take note and respect it. Those that don’t… likely aren’t worth your time. Just like Dr Seuss said:
“ Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
I think this holds true today. You can’t escape all the people who aren’t worth your time since life isn’t like that. However, it is important to be aware of and find ways to surround yourself with people who are worth your time both personally and professionally.
Ultimately, STEM fields are where it’s at. STEM can and does literally change the world. It is the foundation of or a major player of every other field out there. All of us need to strive to be our awesome selves. Try hard. Learn. Be passionate. Give back. And just be awesome. We will make the world a better place thanks to all of our diversity.
I regularly and highly recommend all students entering STEM (and those of us already in STEM jobs) read the following inspiring and motivating books.
- “Feminist Fight Club” by Jessica Bennet
- “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg
- “The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — What Women Should Know” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
These books will help you, as they have helped me, navigate the world and the workplace. Ultimately, these books are guides beyond just the STEM fields. Their wisdom applies globally to women / non-binary / minorities. (Men could do well with reading them as well.) Arm yourself with knowledge and insight from where you can get it. Build your self-assurance and your confidence.
I want the next generation of our STEM fields to know they are our future. With each generation, we are making these fields more diverse and with that diversity we will be able to solve more diverse problems. The world is not filled with only white males. The world’s problems are not unique to only white males. The diversity we bring is critical. It’s something we must continue to fight for. Diversity matters.