“You can’t be what you can’t see”: What U of C showed me at their Women in STEM Symposium.

I am the first person in my family to earn my Ph.D. It’s a big deal. Honestly, I am sometimes surprised by the good luck that brought me to graduation, in addition to all my hard work. My parents were invested in my education. They paid for a good high school where I had a teacher who encouraged my interest in science. I attended an all girls undergraduate institution. I was a graduate researcher in a diverse lab with a boss who supported me completely. And yet, as I look around, I see that in STEM, women are underrepresented in leadership roles, with women of color facing additional barriers. The wheel of missed opportunities and discrimination only continues as women, and women of color, earn less leadership positions. In my time as a graduate student, I have sought out organizations seeking to address this issue.

Recently, I attended the inaugural Women in STEM Symposium at the University of Chicago presented by the Graduate Recruitment Team, the Association for Women in Mathematics, Women in Biological Sciences, Graduate Women in Computer Sciences, and the Society of Women in Engineering. Now, I’ve been to “Women in Science” events before, but this was different. Some of the events included workshops on implicit bias and stereotype threat, a motivational story of being your most authentic self by Dr. Dominique Carter, panels on different career paths including government and writing, and a wonderful lecture by Dr. Eugenia Cheng on how math has been taught in a way that excludes certain personality types.

The organizers were diverse in their expertise and in their racial and ethnic identities. Diversity was at the forefront of their program although it was not stated explicitly. They invited women of color speakers, not on the basis of diversity, but simply because of their careers’ accomplishments and interesting life story narratives. I was floored. I’ve never been to a conference where almost all of the speakers looked like this. It really brought home to me that diversity of speakers is possible when organizers make the effort. So many times we are told that “it’s just too hard to get women, to get women of color, to get other underrepresented identities in STEM.” This event should serve as an example to all those who advocate for diverse conferences. If you take the time and actively work to invite diverse speakers, conferences can be much more representative of our population. As a result of the diversity that was present at this symposium, I think that many participants felt welcome and valued. “You can’t be what you can’t see” – and U of C’s Women in STEM Symposium showed me that with the right community supporting and advocating for us, we can be whatever we choose.

Written by Arianne Rodriguez. She has her Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Northwestern University. She is an executive board member of the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative. She likes to talk science and law and enjoys rock climbing. The Chicago Women in STEM Initiative is looking for new recruits so please contact women@nupostdocs.org

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