I work in STEM as a woman & I can relate.
I read Leigh’s post on being a STEM departing statistic, and as a woman who is in STEM, I can see what she is saying.
(STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering Math)
My partner is also in STEM and this is the difference:
My partner wins more contracts than I do because he’s a man.
May partner gets grilled LESS during interviews (and gets more interviews) because he is a man.
My partner gets taken at his word seriously and without any question, because he is a man.
My partner can speak confidently and assertively during any meeting and not be called a ‘bossy b*tch’ behind his back.
……you get the drift.
All that said, I am a good 10+ years younger than he is, and I cannot deny that I have also benefitted from very few perks of being a young woman in STEM — let’s just say that many guys are a lot more likely to want to book meetings with you, and treat you nicely when you’re a young woman.
They feel less inclined to rake you over the coals and dominate the conversation to take over and crush you underneath their leather loafers in an attempt to be The Boss.
The main hurdles I do face as a young woman in STEM are mostly the same:
1. I have to work three times as hard to prove myself
I have to work thrice as hard to prove my worth.
I have to speak more assertively, I have to modulate my tone, do all of these things to SHOW that I am great and smart, and do it consistently over a long period of time.
A guy in my area? He can show up and do NONE OF THESE THINGS I work on on a daily basis, and still be taken seriously in meetings.
2. No one takes me seriously because I am a young, woman in STEM.
It doesn’t help that I am not ugly. I have the same chip on every woman’s shoulder to NOT call attention to our looks as something to be proud of, but … yes, I am well aware that I am not ugly.
I have been told both by men and women this, so I can safely assume this is true and objective, not some sort of delusions of beauty on my part.
Anyway, looking the way I do (and it doesn’t help that I dress the way I want in dresses and skirts too), it is easy to see how people just assume in meetings that I am there to take notes.
I am never seen as the lead in meetings, and it isn’t until people have worked with me for a while or have seen me operate, that they realize that I’m the one in charge.
It takes a while to get there, and truth be told, some men do not work well with me because they cannot accept that I am giving them directions, but that’s life.
3. Men in particular feel the need to show dominance
1 month into my contract and I have guys sauntering over to my cubicle trying to tell me that they know my job better than I do.
This is not even a joke, though I wish it were.
I had a colleague come over, and talk himself into a puff for 15 minutes on the intricacies of my specialty, telling ME what HE thinks I should do, and how my job works.
I let him ramble on and then looked up and said:
I know. I have been doing this for over 10 years now. But good to know that you have an idea of what it means.
We call this ‘mansplaining‘, a wonderful, accurate new word that has this definition:
It is subtle, and it happens often. I usually let them ramble on and on and then when they’re done, I correct them if I have to (if we’re in a design meeting), otherwise, I just let them wander off with a puffed up chest.
But for me?
I love what I do and I am good at it
If I have to wade through a few murky pools and build a reputation over time in a city that I am living in to be the expert to call, then so be it.
The dream comes with the hustle, and this is my hustle — overcoming systemic discrimination and biases in the workplace for young women in STEM careers, by being the opposite of what they expect me to be.
I will also not let sleeping dogs lie when I hear comments like:
“Women are not as good as men in technical fields.”
… you can be sure, I’ll turn around, give them the eye and ask them what they meant by that, and watch them flounder and trip themselves into a pit so deep that they can’t even grovel to get out of.
I also make good money doing it
The only thing I cannot commiserate on is that I make as good as a salary as my partner in what I do.
Okay, so we’re maybe $10,000 – $20,000 a year apart from each other, but he also has 10 years of experience extra on me, and he has all of that white male privilege working for him.
Me, I am working up towards making sure I CONSISTENTLY get the same rate as he does, but I won’t work for anything less than a certain amount, which is just a general rule I keep.
Many women and men consistently take contracts in my field for a good 30% lower than what I charge, and I just won’t do it.
I’d rather chill out on the bench and work to make more money so I can pay for those chilled out hours rather than work a full year and spend every penny.
This is why budgeting my daily expenses and money has become quite important in my life even if it doesn’t seem like it with all my spending sprees. I am still in control, and I do have a general goal, I am just not hyper-focused on reaching $1,000,000 before I am a certain age, or retiring early because I LOVE what I do.
All that, is just to say that I commiserate with Leigh.
I know how she feels, and frankly if she doesn’t love what she does, she should MOST DEFINITELY NOT DO IT ANY MORE especially if she has the means to do so.