Cayla Perez Primary Mentor at EWAAB
If you’re a woman in STEM, I’m sure we’ve all gone through this experience: sitting down for class, huddling next to a handful of other female students or none at all, and being surrounded by an ocean of male students. The ratio of men and women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics is no surprise. In college majors alone, it can be clear where the disparities lie and how much the ratio affects women in STEM:
The topic of equity when it comes to women in STEM has always been recurring throughout schools, universities, or workplaces. Constantly dealing with the adversity of being underestimated or unheard can be draining; the male-dominant environment and field can be intimidating, but you eventually learn to embrace your individuality and go from there.
In high school, it was a constant struggle to adapt to a competitive, masculine environment. For most of my time, I was involved in my school’s FIRST robotics team, engaging in mechanical engineering projects. I would work in groups to design and build robotic mechanisms that were best fit for competitions. At first glance, it was exciting to test the waters with engineering; however, it was not long until I noticed it was not going to be as easy as I expected. I was the only girl accepted into the team’s roster for mechanical engineering. The only girl out of twenty students -those words would just echo in my mind.
It was difficult adapting to an environment where I stuck out so much. I remember other members and mentors referring to me as “the only girl” instead of saying my name. At other times, members would say to me, “Oh the mentor treats you like that because you’re the only girl” or “You got farther in robotics team elections because there’s no other girl here.” There was a constant reminder that my only identity in that environment was simply “girl.” Moving forward to college, instances similar to those would happen. Instances that didn’t exactly repeat the past, but somewhat rhymed. When working in groups I wouldn’t be taken seriously about my ideas and methods for solving problems. If a male student voiced an opinion, people would automatically trust him and believe his answer. When it was my turn, my voice would be minimized and I had to go out of my way to show my answer.
With all of this adversity, it can be hard to keep your head up. When you are constantly challenged, it is exhausting and you always feel the urge to prove yourself to others. It is not easy being the “only girl.”
To put it bluntly, unfair experiences don't suddenly diminish over time - they happen in numerous places and you eventually learn how to work around them. Personally, addressing unfair scenarios and talking it out was a good way for me to navigate them.. I’ve found it helps to recognize what is going on and share your experiences with people you trust. It may seem difficult but I recommend being vocal about your opinions and ideas. In a group situation, don’t hesitate to bring up your ideas because you feel intimidated by your surroundings, be brave and believe in yourself because the worst-case scenario is you get told no. The issue of inequity is not something that can be solved overnight despite how much you can navigate through it. Don’t let being an “only girl” take away from your involvement and self-confidence. Embracing your individuality and having a voice helps you stand up for yourself and see yourself as an equal.
Despite all the adversity you may face, your value and individuality is not minimized by the thoughts and actions of others. Believe in yourself and you’ll have the power to push through.
Are Women Reaching Parity with Men in STEM? | Econofact. (2022, April 15). Econofact.org. https://econofact.org/are-women-reaching-parity-with-men-in-stem#:~:text=Women%20held%20only%2019%25%20of
Cayla Perez is a sophomore at Stevens Institute of Technology, majoring in biomedical engineering. She is passionate about the engineering field and has experience with software development and entrepreneurship. In addition, she is the fundraising chair in the Filipino Association at Stevens Institute of Technology (FAST). Her favorite hobbies are listening to music and knitting.