The STEM Skills Gap is a Lie

We keep hearing that the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers are suffering from low numbers of women and minorities being interested. There is money being funneled into this movement to “pink-ify” everything and a lot of companies being vocal about it. While I have absolutely no opposition to going to schools and teaching younger women about the opportunities in STEM, I do have a problem with being a young Hispanic woman in STEM being told that we don’t exist because of this fictitious “skills gap” and “low numbers”. It’s only funny because I fall under female, female interested in cyber security, minority (Hispanic), without the need of a HB-1 Visa (yup, US citizen since birth), with two engineering (BSc and MSc) degrees and in the middle of a CS degree (MSc), and I find it impossible to be taken seriously by recruiters and hiring managers, and get a job within my field. That’s right, two masters with decent grades and an impressive resume, and a handful of people that would vouch for my strong work ethic and quality of work, if asked (but what recruiter verifies their candidates by contacting references anyways?).

I fall in that awkward position where the entire tech world is screaming, “WE WANT THESE PEOPLE! THIS CATEGORY DOESN’T EXIST, AND WE NEED TO MAKE NUMBERS HERE GO UP!”, and here I am flailing my arms wildly in vain and asking why I am invisible.

Hiring isn’t based on technical aptitude, but rather who is most convincing at bullshitting to a hiring manager within 30 minutes! Women and minorities are often shy, soft spoken, and humble. This is definitely working against us. I am here to speak out, because I am proof that the skills gap and low numbers excuse is a lie. I can’t scream this out loud enough.

There isn’t a skills gap in STEM with respect to female or minorities, but there certainly is a general inclination towards demoralizing the students in this category! I’ve been pursing this field with limited success for a decade now, so really, about those “women leaving in droves due to harsh environment” comments… way to undermine the few tenacious women sticking it out despite the flack! I have received underhanded remarks from different company hiring managers throughout the years. Here is a sample of such treatment (mind you all are these happened and all with rejections):

We wear hard hats and steel toe boots here.” — I explained I was wearing steel toes at my current position (I was wearing steel toe shoes as we spoke over the phone actually!), so I wasn’t bothered by this.

What is a pointer?” -my only technical question for a 45 minute technical interview, and I’ve taught programming courses at universities before!

What is the difference between = and == ?” — again, I answered correctly and I’ve taught and currently do teach at a university as a faculty instructor, but rejected.

This one is my favorite: “We have several other candidates to interview and don’t know when we will make a decision.” — This was within the first 10 minutes of a 45 minute interview and I didn’t ask for a timeline to invoke this response. I was merely a check mark on the list, and it was incredibly dismissive!

That last one is used more times than I can count, but the funny thing is to have the company go radio silent for months and then ask to interview you again with the same generic email you got the first time you interviewed. Yup, we talked four months ago, and you decided I wasn’t worth your time to let know what your final decision was of rejecting me, but let’s do this again for your amusement. A cruel game to play with a student that really just wants experience in a field that she is passionate about. Breaking into the engineering field is difficult, but breaking into the information security realm is even harder. Being a minority female seems to make this an impossibility. Also, why are other women engineers so hostile and quick to dismiss other younger females in the start of their careers?!

Too often it feels like I am called and “interviewed” for positions that I am well qualified for, but am brushed aside with this predetermined expectation that I don’t know anything at all. The dismissive attitude is apparent from the beginning of the call, before I ever answer a technical question or even get asked one. I am that “charity case”, mark down as we talked to her so that we can say we tried the minority female. But really, I wasn’t given a fair chance from the beginning. This is discouraging at best, but I enjoy engineering too much to give up so easily.

It’s also odd that there is this expectation that you need to hire someone that has already demonstrated they are a rockstar at what they are going to be doing in the internship (and I mean, been doing it for years, not that you have your feet wet at school and through extracurricular and are interested in getting more hands-on experience). What is the student supposed to learn during that internship then? What about us that have a true interest and a desire to grow? Give us a chance!

Two, going on three degrees in STEM areas, and STILL not good enough for an entry level to mid-level position or even an internship? I hear so much about mentoring, about teaching others in the beginning stages and outreach. Well, there is this gaping hole here in the attempt to start a career that seemingly no one is acknowledging. Want to “close the skills gap” and “improve the minority hire numbers”? Then really, stop being so dismissive, so hostile, and cease with the double standard. We are right here, and waiting. We are qualified and eager to learn.

Stop denying our existence. Stop pushing us out of STEM in this manner.