I recently started in the engineering track, so I’m a novice in the field. I wasn’t involved in the robotics clubs in high school, didn’t code before college and hadn’t even touched a circuit board before my electronics lab this fall. Last week, I asked one of my classmates to explain how to begin the lab, after first apologizing for what I subconsciously felt was a lack of merit.
I do this time and time again. I’m sure my classmate would have happily helped me out without requiring an explanation. But as a woman, I feel I have to justify my “shortcomings” and compulsively over-thank and over-apologize all the time.
We are in a privileged position, attending one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the world. I’m in awe of the opportunities we receive and the collection of brilliant minds and ideas we are exposed to everyday. However, women still deal with a sense of inadequacy. When we are sitting in a classroom where less than a third of the students are female, we feel a looming pressure to prove we deserve to be there. It’s flawed, but I feel like a failure not only to myself, but also to all women in STEM, when I underperform on a test or take a little longer to understand a concept in class.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Hopperx1 Conference in New York City, where women technologists gathered to share their experiences in academia and the workforce and taught techniques to foster diversity and inclusion. This event was empowering but provided some daunting statistics. For instance, according to the World Economic Forum, we are over 200 years away from closing the global economic gender gap at the current rate of progress. In computer science and engineering, women make up a minority of students at the top universities across the country, and there is a steep drop-off in female matriculation the higher a person advances through academia, especially for women of color. The same goes for women in executive positions. For me, the question is not if gender inequality exists, but what can we do to change it, starting here at Yale?
Ladies, we need to be proactive. It’s been shown that while men are promoted based on potential, women are promoted based on performance. And the reality is that being accepted as a colleague and being promoted can be more difficult for us than for our male peers.
Furthermore, one of the reasons women are successful in school but lose to men in the office is that many of us are reluctant to participate unless we feel absolutely sure we are correct, whereas men will participate even if they’re uncertain of their answer. This confidence translates to careers; men are more willing to apply to positions when they may be underqualified, while women tend to apply only when they meet all qualifications. If we want to improve our opportunities, we must change our perspectives and attitudes. Search for opportunities and apply for top positions even if you feel you may not have all the qualifications, because chances are, you are more qualified than most. Get out of your comfort zone. It takes time to build up confidence, and there’s no better place to do this than in our classes.
Be collaborative, not competitive. Form alliances, promote and forge relationships with women who can create paths to success. The reality is that many positions of influence are held by men. I can count the number of female professors I’ve had on one hand. But rather than be discouraged, let’s engage, empower and inform our male allies. In fact, some of my best mentors here at Yale have been male, and by opening this conversation of gender empowerment beyond just women, we can more effectively work towards gender equality.
Gentlemen, I’m sure that a majority of you support empowering women. If we all are truly invested in promoting a culture that offers the same opportunities for everyone, be aware that being male in our society comes with privilege, and don’t assume that this privilege is universal. Most importantly, hold yourselves accountable. Many of you remarkable young men will be in roles where you can make some real change. Recognize and honor the power you hold. Seek real talent when promoting your peers, looking beyond gender. Talk is cheap, action is invaluable.
I believe that gender equality is a moral imperative. Access to rights and opportunities should not be affected by gender, since gender parity would lead to benefits for all. Think of all aspects of life in which women have an influence. Providing better opportunities to women extends the benefits to their children.
Huge strides have already been taken. Fifty years ago, women matriculated for the first time at Yale College, and now women make up 50 percent of the undergraduate student body. The fact that I now get to study and even teach computer science, a topic that I love, in a college named after Grace Hopper, a female pioneer in computer programming, is of real significance. Let’s fight the status quo now by promoting awareness and working together to foster change.
VICTORIA STEVENS is a sophomore in Benjamin Franklin College. Contact her at email@example.com .