See Something, Say Something

Recently, VA Tech (VT) held a Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Networking Event. The main host and facilitators, Julie Ross (Dean, College of Engineering) and Sally Morton (Dean, College of Science) moderated the conversation. The panel was composed of Virginia Tech alumnae who are excelling despite the challenges of these male-dominated fields. The goals of the event were for alumnae to share experiences, build networks, and explore industry trends.

The pre-networking event and reception provided access to different male cohorts at the university. The questions from the attendees reflected widespread experiences, both good and bad. Two things stood out for me:

1. No Women of Color panelists represented.

Though it may have been a somewhat difficult task to discover this type of panelist, it was hosted at the VT Research Center in Arlington, Virginia. This positioned the event right in the middle of the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) – a top technology talent haven. Did anyone reach out to the African American alumni, Hispanic or Asian groups? This made me feel some sort of way immediately as I sat next to an African American alum who proudly displayed “love a VT engineer” atop her phone. Yet, I found myself feeling a bit like an outsider.

During the event, I made the decision to target becoming a future panelist. Eventually, I made my way towards Dean Ross, finding her very welcoming. I gave my elevator pitch, and was immediately introduced to her Alumni Relations lead. The conversation that ensued was productive. I was presented with lots of options and next steps to find a fit for me. Again, change begins with the decision to Speak Up.

2. During the conference, a male gentleman asked me a thought-provoking question with a caring tone: “How can we as men help?”

His question caused me to think of the app, “See Something, Say Something.”

This app started locally and is now a nationwide asset utilized by the Department of Homeland Security. The app engages the public with protecting homeland security through awareness-building, partnership, and other outreach.

And yet, what can one say to those males in our common space who desire change and wish to partner with women in STEM? What does this change look like? This is the question my sister implores me to ask. She is a previous Chief of Human Resources and believes this exact question persuades folks to respond with less nondescript and more detail-oriented responses.

In retrospect, my life has been sprinkled with the positive presence of male workplace figures who have assisted me on my career journey. When my mentor, Dr. Stephen Black, first hired me, he encouraged me to pursue my doctorate. Dr. Black introduced me to the CEO of his company, James Flannery. A partnership was initiated and a bold decision made to cover 100% of my education costs. This propelled me to continue my doctorate studies at The George Washington University.

Once, I brought my technical manager’s attention to something a briefer asked of three gentlemen in the room: “If you guys have any questions, let me know.” Although the briefing audience was a majority of women (and all of the follow-up inquiries came from women) the briefer chose to use the word “guys.” I conveyed to my technical manager that these types of statements can make women feel segregated, and even unwanted. He looked perplexed, sharing, “I always say to my three girls ‘Are you guys ready to go eat?’” I suggested he may want to ask his girls how they prefer to be addressed. Later, he agreed to escalate my concern to the Senior Leadership level. In the aftermath, I noticed different team leads auto-correcting their verbal communication. “Guys” changed to “y’all,” “team,” and “our organization.” What does this look like?

It truly only takes one person at a time to engage in public awareness and protect women in STEM who are battling an uphill trek:

Truly, it only takes a single voice to Speak on issues that arise, advocating for fair treatment for all from the start. Couple this with taking Action for those whose voices may be suppressed. Be the change agent we need today.

For additional information, refer to Rebecca Shambaugh’s book recommended to me by my mentor Rebecca Rhoads, President of Global Business Services at Raytheon: It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor, Shambaugh Blog.

For tools to aid you on how to handle moments when speaking up or out may be difficult, checkout this excellent podcast by a group of Harvard professors: HBR Women at Work.

Dr. Denise N. Haskins
Founder, SWIFT-U

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Shared courtesy of Creative Commons 2.0.

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