It is National STEM/STEAM Day 2018—a national holiday meant to encourage kids and individuals of all ages to think about the world of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM). And given that employment growth in STEM occupations outpaces others, having grown 79% since 1990, many are validated in feeling as though getting an early interest in these fields is key to a better future.
This holiday also serves as yet another brutal reminder that women, especially minority women, have a long way to go still as we are still vastly underrepresented in nearly all of these fields. And while just two days ago, the nation was provided with a night full of firsts as women dominated across the board in our midterm elections, I believe we can aspire to this same high standard with women in STEM occupations as well.
The Bureau of Labor reported in 2016 that women made up only 25 percent of computing-related occupations. And when looking at women of color like myself, the numbers become even more ridiculously dismal with Latinas and Black women holding only 1% and 3% of computing jobs, respectively.
So what can one conclude from all this?
Well, first, let me provide some context.
A unicorn is a startup company (like Slack where I work) valued at over $1 billion.
The term was coined because the chances of a startup becoming a unicorn are very statistically rare (about 1.28% likely to happen).
That means that according to these numbers, I’m about as rare as the “unicorn” I work for in the sense that I’m part of the 1% of women in tech that considers herself a die-hard software engineer and identifies as Latina.
I’m a unicorn working for another unicorn!
But even if one pushes past the issues of isolation or discrimination, many barriers can stand in the way of a Latina interested in a career in STEM. To help with these barriers, I offer this piece of advice – find and connect with “your people”. As a minority woman in STEM, life will be easier if you find strength in numbers and in people you can relate to.
By reading this article, you’re actually already taking concrete steps to connect with other voices like yours. The unfortunate reality is that if you a part of an underrepresented group in tech like I am, feelings of isolation or not feeling like you deserve to be there may fester every now and then. Fortunately, you can easily mitigate these kinds of emotions by actively seeking out groups where you can network and seek support from others like you.
For example, I’m part of Techqueria which is one of the largest organizations for Latinx in Tech in the Bay Area. Just through that one organization (out of many I’m associated with), I got support from four different engineers on how to better prepare for the interview process. These organizations can set you up for success so that you’re not only in the tech industry but that you are thriving in the tech industry.
Indeed, the past and present both bring challenges and opportunities for us as a whole within the tech industry because it is obvious technology will play an increasingly intimate role in everyone’s lives as it advances. What’s more, women and other groups currently under-represented in technology are going to also increasingly influence technological purchases and consumption.
If we can increase the meaningful involvement of these underrepresented voices, that will lead to technological innovations that better meet the needs of a diverse society and help us grapple with a deeper range of complex problems and inequities. And while such a change may take time and will not come easy, but it will be worthwhile.
To leave on a positive note, I want to be clear that it’s not all doom and gloom. The current void the tech industry has pushed me to be the best that I can be and I have since developed a strong desire to motivate and aid those who wish to enter the tech field but may not feel like they’ll fit in.
Ultimately, my goal lies in becoming a leader in the field in other to inspire others who grew up looking like me and show them that yes, Latinas can indeed code and lead in the tech industry. In any industry, really.