See Something, Say Something

Recently Va Tech (VT) held a Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Networking Event, hosted by Deans of the College of Engineering and College of Science who moderated the conversation. The panel was comprised of Virginia Tech alumnae who are navigating the challenges and excelling in these male dominated fields. The goals were for alumni to share experiences, build networks, and explore industry trends. 

The format of the pre-networking event and reception provided access to all different male cohorts at the university and 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, which is short for DMV, and 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 atop her phone love a VT engineer, yet I felt like an outsider a bit.

Made a decision to target being on a future panel and made my way to Dean Ross who was very welcoming.  I gave my elevator pitch and she immediately introduced me to her Alumni Relations lead. The conversation that ensued was productive and I was presented with lots of options and next steps to find a fit for me. Again, change begins with a decision to speak up.

  1. A male gentlemen asked a thought-provoking question with a caring tone, “How can we as men help”

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

This app started locally and is now a nationwide asset that the Dept of Homeland Security describes as app to engage the public in protecting our homeland through awareness-building, partnerships, and other outreach.

In retrospect, what can one say to the males in our common space who desire to change the dynamics and partner with women in STEM.  This requires someone to make a decision to make a change.  So what does this look like?  Is the question my sister implores me to use.  She is a previous Chief of Human Resources and believes this persuades folks to respond with more detail-oriented response and prevents vague, non-descript answers to slip in a statement.

In retrospect, my life is sprinkled with various male figures who assisted me in a positive manne during my career journey and allows one to visualize “what does this look like?

  • When my mentor Dr. Stephen Black hired me, he encouraged me to pursue my doctorate. When he then introduced me to the CEO of his company James Flannery and a bold decision to cover for education 100%, a partnership was initiated.  This propelled me to continue my studies at The George Washington University for my doctorate
  • Begin with communicating with different people at different levels in your organization who can speak up on your behalf.  For example, one day I brought my technical manager’s attention to where the briefer turned to the three gentlemen in the room and said “If you guys have any questions let me know.”  Although the audience was majority women and all the follow-up inquiries came from women, these types of statements can make women feel segregated and unwanted I conveyed. He looked perplexed and shared, “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.

He immediately agreed to escalate my concern to the Senior Leadership levels, and I noticed the different leads incorporating an autocorrect their verbal communication.  What does this look like?

The “guys” word changed to “ya’ll, team, or in our organization” was used as the new lexicon of choice.

It truly only takes one person at a time to decide to engage in public awareness and protect the women in the STEM field who are battling an uphill trek that is evident by employing the technique of  “See Something, Say Something” Below are a few examples in our real world:

A single voice to Speak on issues that arise and to keep fair treatment for all at the forefront is the start.  Then to couple taking Action for those whose voices may be suppressed is 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 provided this recommended reading 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 HBR Women at Work by a group of Harvard professors.


Your STEM Concierge

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