July 2016 > But I Don’t Want a New Sweater!

But I Don’t Want a New Sweater!

Hi, my name is Becca and I’m an 18 year-old sophomore at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (typically shortened to RPI). I’m pursuing a dual major in Nuclear and Mechanical engineering. I’m currently an intern at the Rochester, NY software development company, Envative, doing quality assurance testing of various software products including custom web and mobile applications

As I sit amongst the group of 15 smart, yet fun-loving male software engineers here, I find myself reflecting (once again) on why there is still such an under-representation of women in the technology work force.  You might immediately assume that it must be due to discriminatory company hiring practices.  Not so fast…I can tell you first hand that discrimination starts waaaay before a woman meets with a prospective employer!

Out of my high school class of 250, I was one of 10 or so girls that wanted to pursue a degree in STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and/or math). I was one of only 3 that wanted to become an engineer. The number of male students wishing to go into engineering was closer to 30.

Females aren’t born with a biological abhorrence of science. Nobody actually ever walked up to me and said “Girls shouldn’t be engineers.”  So – what’s the deal?  Why aren’t there more females pursuing these types of careers today?

Consider this...

In 2012, I was in eighth grade in a small rural town. My best friend Jessie (Jessica) was the best math student that the district had seen in years. Teachers took bets on what her state testing scores would be. 95? 98? Would she actually get a 100?

That year, our counselors brought us in to discuss what classes we should take in high school and what fields we may be interested in working in. Jessie, of course, explained her passion for math. Our friend, Ben, a slightly-above average math student, also wanted a job that involved math.

Ben was told he should become an engineer.

Jessie was told she should become a math teacher. SIGH. (Yup...true story.)

Since middle school, small instances like these have occurred at least once every school year to me or to another young female friend I know. The discrimination usually doesn’t seem intentionally overt, but it is consistently present nonetheless.

We experience it when choosing colleges and a curious science teacher asks “So who’s going to a tech school?” and although 8 people raise their hands, the one female is the only one asked “You want to go to a tech school? Why?”

We experience it when wearing a sweatshirt that says “RPI engineering” and a friendly stranger comes up and says “Oh, my son goes to RPI!  Does your boyfriend go there?”

As I said, I am not alone in these experiences. Every female friend I’ve discussed this particular topic with has had their own stories of teachers, boyfriends, and often parents who’ve heavily implied (or even said straight out) that she should have chosen to pursue a liberal arts degree, despite her total lack of interest in such subjects.

Girls grow up in this environment while researchers wonder “Where are the women in STEM?” 

I can answer that. Most of us were scared away by this quiet prejudice that is seemingly unavoidable, no matter where we grow up, how old we are, or how much we excel in math and science.

It’s a mind-set and behavior that needs to be changed – but how?  How about we start with…

Don’t look so surprised when a girl tells you she wants to be an engineer.

Don’t assume your girlfriend is bad at chemistry and will want your help.

Don’t buy your daughter a new sweater when she asked for a wireless computer mouse.

More than anything, if YOU are a female in a STEM field or thinking about joining one, don’t let closed-minded people steer you away. If you love science, technology, engineering, and/or math, there IS a place for you and there ARE employers in these industries that will welcome smart and talented women like us!
Posted: 6/30/2016 10:54:51 AM by Becca Rice | with 0 comments

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