What I learned from being a woman promoting STEM
The pros and cons of being an outside voice
There’s been a great push to have more girls involved with STEM at a younger age and develop those skills to succeed in a career path. No matter the progress made, public opinion still seems to side with the fact that enough women are not involved in STEM as adults and are treated differently in the field.'
Statistics are showing that in school, girls and boys are understanding math and science at the same rate, and women are outpacing or keeping up with men earning higher education degrees in STEM. They note that it is the socioeconomic or cultural differences that alienate STEM and not sex. It’s also important to understand that STEM is comprised of many different components and calculated differently. So, if we are saying that we simply do not have enough female civil engineers, that is different than saying women can’t or don’t want to do STEM. Perhaps they’d rather be a doctor or UX developer — should that be counted less than or qualified differently?
Without scientific studies and public opinion, I can give my experience being a woman who has worked predominantly in perceived male-dominated industries, but in a marketing role. This perhaps makes me the most outside of the outside looking in on a topic, but it’s an important perspective to consider.
I began my career in politics, and while not technically STEM, it was mostly males in leadership and I worked for Republicans — being a Republican, young woman makes me a minority even by today’s standards. I never once faced any harassment or questioning in my ability to lead a team. I was given a job a step up from what I had originally applied. Not because I was a woman, but because I was located in a region where they needed to place a strong emphasis on the upcoming election cycle. This experience built my confidence and set the tone for my path in the world, or so I thought.
When I began advocating for issues in the construction and engineering trade, I found myself again working with mostly male owners. As a communications strategist, it’s my job to quickly learn and understand what a subject matter expert knows and how best to present that to the right audience. Construction was my first entry into an area I knew very little but learned very quickly. I worked with leaders in the field to understand their issues and how best to present them. I found common-ground and landed my first front-page PR cover. This experience also taught me how to work hard to learn and overcome obstacles.
I first began my real understanding of STEM when I helped brand a new school that was geared towards low-income students and a STEM curriculum that also included experiential learning. Seeing high school freshmen never exposed to STEM (either male or female) learning about the opportunities that awaited them was eye-opening. We had many women in technology and leadership available to speak to the students, but for this group, it was the socioeconomic gap that existed, not a sex gap.
I consider myself to be a generalist because I can write about most topics with ease, but my specialty and focus for the past several years has been in healthcare and technology — and my sweet spot would be health IT. I’m not a doctor, computer engineer, or scientist — but I have represented them, written for them, and sold to them. How can I work to understand a community that I’m not a part and what have I learned from it?
1. I’m a minority. When I say that I’m a minority, I mean that as a marketing professional in most of these industries I’m outnumbered by the developers, doctors, and scientists. While a majority of them have been males, our biggest challenge has been in how I want to promote STEM and their willingness to care about the promotion verse the act of doing their trade.
2. I’ve been used. I once worked for a company that was so desperate to bring in female developers that they felt it very necessary for me to be on the website for diversity purposes. This focus to have females in the office was so strong, that the intern considered only targeting females in recruitment ads. (Fortunately, I was able to course-correct that ship).
3. I’ve been overlooked. Statistics matter in STEM fields. Sometimes marketing takes time to show stats and ROI. It’s even hard to always quantify tone and content placement for PR messaging and explain that to C-levels. Building trust is the most important. I’ve been let go before the fruition of a campaign, only to be sought out after and hear that they should have stayed the course for the pay-off.
4. Different perspectives matter. No matter the sex, role, or particular piece of STEM, when people collaborate and share their different points of view, the best knowledge and action stems from it. (See what I did there?)
I’m a promoter at heart. I value words and using them to promote a brand, product, or issue that I truly believe. STEM has many products and services that can change the world and I’m drawn to the industry so I naturally want it to succeed. I also want women to choose STEM unabashedly if that is their heart’s desire and calling.
No one should ever feel the need to not live out their dream because someone else has said it’s not for them.
That above sentence has too many “not’s” in it for me. In life, we should focus on what we can do and achieve our dreams. Some of my favorite jobs or tasks have been the ones where someone said “you won’t like that” or “that company or person is not (insert some superfluous adjective)” while some of my least favorite jobs were the ones that everyone said would be so awesome and the leadership would be amazing.
I graduated from college as a double-major in political science and English. I always loved to write, but so many people told me I couldn’t make a living that way and law school was a more logical choice. Excelling in a pre-legal program didn’t mean I had to become an attorney if my heart wasn’t in it. The same could be said for girls in STEM. If they are doing well in those subjects and want to pursue it, they should with everything they have and should be encouraged to do so. But girls and women should never take positions or choose career paths because they want to be a diversity checkmark or talking point. They should work hard at their passion and then get to tell their own stories.
We shouldn’t hire people for their sex or assume they have or don’t have skills because of it either. You shouldn’t hire me because I’m a female entrepreneur who works in STEM fields and you want to look good or make me a mark on your diversity checklist. You should hire me because I’m good at what I do and I’ll work hard to understand your business and how best to market it.