Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Empowering each other, and the girls coming behind us

I'd like to share two collaborations this semester, with two different groups of women, working toward the goal of supporting women along the STEM pipeline, but at different stages in their lives and careers.

Mid-semester, students Rhea Joseph, President of the Baobab Society, and Fatema Zubair and
Samantha McVey, Undergraduate Student Association's Co-Directors of Student Affairs and Diversity, approached us about collaborating on "a social mixer/brunch to promote women empowerment specifically in STEM related fields"-- something Rhea and Fatema had in in the backs of their minds for a while, but with graduation rapidly approaching, would need to do soon to participate themselves!! We brainstormed format and discussion points, they periodically reported back that they'd secured panelists, drafted questions and would like feedback on them, ordered food, were selling tickets, had sold out! And then April 10 was there--Baobab Society finalized the decorations, welcomed in a gender inclusive audience of 80 or so students, staff, faculty, who listened to these poised young women expertly facilitate the panel discussion, focusing on challenges in and out of the workplace, what helped, and what should the community really look at to truly assess the climate for women, so that students, faculty and staff succeed in an environment that promotes a sense of value, support and belonging, rather than persisting in spite of that environment.

Take home messages:

It's time to think about a different way of doing things, but some challenges remain.

You may not feel "like a full-fledged member" of a department, especially if you have different credentials than the others in your unit. But you can open doors (even a crack) for others to come through to be full members of the community and value the different opinions at the table.

The "family prices" can still seem as negative for women. You need supportive partners at home! At work, find people (or a group of people, like the Women's Caucus, or a virtual group, like the esfwomen listserv) to answer questions, bounce ideas, just be there and listen.

Club issue--feel like the only one. If you don't want to be part of an existing group, make your own! Even if its just a club of one.

Particular challenges that our panel faced: two started the tenure clock over when hired here (despite college's history of offering tenured title to others who had attained elsewhere), because (for one) that process for a woman of color at another institution was "just not up to the same standard." That made her more determined--"they won't be skeptical at the end!" She continued to feel marginalized--but cannot pin it on ethnicity, but on simply thinking differently. How do you get past that? Empower and talk to one another! Being intentional about working with women and supporting one another. Culturally, wait to speak until asked. Big challenge to learn to interrupt. Listen to those who say "You're strong."  Bossy vs same behavior in men that is lauded. STEM fields considered very linear, but integration is much more valued now.

Sexually harassed by advisors? Currently there is more awareness of this, but women are still more at risk during travel.

How should we assess the climate for women? Its hard to measure a sense of belonging....do our curricula represent a plurality of ways of being? Thinking? How much do we integrate justice, ethics in science? How do we value all the different things folks bring? Do we listen? Do faculty learn? Retention and advancement in field! Are we persisting in spite of problems or succeeding within a strong support network? Keep moving forward!

Parallel to this event, Caucus staff met with individuals from Outreach, C-STEP, Diversity and Inclusion, SU's STEP program, and Girls Inc of YWCA to plan the 2016 Girls Summit, held at ESF and SU on May 7--a keynote by Dawn Benjamin, 8 workshops featuring a different STEM career (each girl attended 4), plus a college readiness panel of current college students facilitated by Mel Mennon, then of On Point for College. A record (I believe) 93! middle and high-school girls participated--putting "hard" (as in "concrete", not an assessment of difficulty) science and math into action, some with a social (aka "soft") science twist, to help them consider new fields for themselves, but also to see purpose in science and math, to stay interested in those subjects--as that interest is correlated with higher self esteem, and more options.

If the speed at which tickets were sold out to the first event is indicative of either a climate of support, or readiness to provide that, and a culture of inclusion, we are well on our way to be ready to support the Girls Summit participants, as students, and as community leaders, when those that choose to come here do so. Let's keep moving forward!