Pre-college: Journalism, literature, mass communication, tourism, among the others — these are few of the college paths people from my high school assumed I would take. Defined as a writer because of my role as the editor-in-chief of our school paper, no one pictured me taking up engineering. Only a handful knew I was the president of the computer club. In my Brainbytes days, worked most of the time in the background. (More like a meta element.) Consistently, I snatched the annual ICT medal given to the top students in the computer subject which qualified me to compete for computer-related competitions. More even fewer people knowing that the writing competitions I engaged in involved sustainability and development through sciences, technologies, engineering, and mathematics.

Now: Back then, little did I know these things that I was engaged at would impact my future. Four years ago, I didn’t actually imagine that I would be leading an organization for women empowerment in the field of STEM. Neither did I think I would be get involved in the technology scene, now as a blockchain enthusiast. Funny how things turn out.

I am both girly and sporty — my main sports are Taekwondo and cycling, but I still love to strut around in a dress while wearing high heels. Eyeglasses, braces, hoodies — the typical nerd look that people would expect from any girl who is into science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. Funny how stereotypical people can get. I always get the, “ Really? You don’t look like it.” or “Can girls actually do that?” It surprises me how the gender biases still prevail despite the era that we live in now. What’s even more surprising is that these questions come out of curiosity which means most people still perceive this as unorthodox.

Taking up BS Electrical Engineering in then Mapúa Institute of Technology (now Mapúa University), I learned how to thicken my skin when it comes to gender discrimination. I am one of the few girls who chose to pursue this male-dominated program. More often than not, I am usually the only girl in the class if there’s no other one or two more enrolled. Based on my general observations, the ratio for my program’s courses was and still is at 30:1. I always walked in a classroom full of dudes. Working with my fellow engineering undergrads and male professors, I have experienced receiving multiple odd comments and assumptions stemming from our macho-culture here in the Philippines where women are placed on restricted and limited roles acting on menial tasks. With this, I knew I had to work harder to establish myself and to be more assertive showing authority for equal treatment.

Alongside with the other top BSEE students

In my pursuit for quality engineering, I always tell my colleagues to ignore gender and focus on the quality of work done. This is one the main contributing factors as I developed my leadership skills when working in groups. Through collaboration and teamwork, I was able to positively work in teams with men and even confidently led these teams. Knowing that they would impose managerial and secretarial work, I usually claim the technical tasks to prove that I can do “real” engineering work. Personally, I love being in the laboratory while working on circuit boards, transformers, and machines. These design projects are the most exciting turning points throughout the program.

These stereotyping cases are just the surface. What’s not often talked about is the fact that sexual harassment exists. Women are often judged to be too sensitive if they raise this issue. This happens most of the time, trust me. From my classmates to my professors, some blatantly gave comments that made me feel uncomfortable which was why I called them out on this. Some even asked me to use my “charm” to sway our professor. As an individual with a strong personality, I can tell them in a straightforward manner how what they’re doing is wrong even if I’m not easily offended and can brush it off. However, I feel that women should not even be obligated to say this because we should not even be experiencing these situations. How about the soft-spoken women? They won’t be able to tell their colleagues that they’re offended. The culture of sexism, discrimination, and stereotypes should not be left unaddressed. In terms of personal behavior, it is the responsibility of men to act decently and respectfully.

With the number of men and women nearly equal in both law and medicine while the diversity in sciences is growing, the number of females in tech and engineering stays at a low proportion. These fields of innovation need diversity in order to build incredible things. Differences spark innovation. The female perspective is crucial since the other half (if not more) of the population cannot be left behind.

A diverse population of Coding Girls members at Universidad de Manila

As the evident gender gap and demand for a more diverse workforce, it has never been more relevant to inspire and encourage girls to choose a field in STEM and women to stay in the industry. This is the core foundation of organizations like Coding Girls. As the founder, Anna Radulovski, stated, “Our mission is to empower girls to get started in coding and to increase the number of women in technology, leadership, and entrepreneurship. We’re envisioning an inclusive and diverse world with females as tech innovators, leaders and entrepreneurs who make a positive change with the help of code.” The mission and the vision along with the values were the reasons why I decided to be part of Coding Girls. Thanks to another organization that advocates for women in tech, Women Who Code Manila, I discovered CG through the WWCode Manila Hackathon 2017.

Rekindling with tech through WWCode Manila Hackathon 2017

The under-representation of women in STEM can be solved by creating a welcoming environment for females in these fields. This form of sisterhood is a message to women in STEM saying “you’re not alone.” Our aim is to cheer girls on through forming a supportive network. Of course, as an inclusive and diverse organization, we welcome men to join us and work alongside us in this movement. Syncing, I believe that together, we can disrupt the status quo.

Be part of the movement, join us in making a difference!