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Emerging champions for young women in the STEM workforce October 25, 2009

Posted by Connie Chow in women in science.
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I often end my talks by challenging academia and corporations to reflect on and adapt their space and practices so they become truly welcoming and nurturing for young women and people of color. Before that transformation becomes pervasive, I must admit feeling conflicted at times when advising our girls and even mentors to follow their dreams, knowing some may enter environments that are toxic to their souls.

Recently, I received some reassurance that the tide is turning. A male alum of Olin College of Engineering who is working in a local tech company, told me how he pointed out to his male boss that the boss’ concern about a female candidate, one of three finalists, not “fitting in” with the department has no basis except for covert sexism, since he could have said the same thing about the other male candidates. But didn’t. Kudos for facing up to the superior, being sensitive to sniff out sexism!

I’m not naive. I know that one data point does not make a trend. And Olin is probably the only engineering school that comes close to gender parity. (This year, there are actually more women than men). And many women in STEM continue to work in discouraging, if not discriminatory environments.

I’m not asking these young men to save their sisters. But I’m counting on the growing number of young men who have worked alongside female classmates and colleagues, who are comfortable interacting with women, and who have learned firsthand that these women are just as skilled and intelligent as they are, to have the courage and integrity to stand up for their cohorts in academic hallways and the marketplace. You’re our allies!!

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