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A Double Whammy or Triple Threat: The Disparity of Diversity Amongst Women in STEM - Part II

02/14/2020 8:00 AM | Anonymous

As a follow-up to the inaugural program in 2018, Women & Hi Tech hosted a “Special Edition” of its Executive Women’s Forum (Part II) on February 5, 2020.  The program was organized by Angela B. Freeman, President of Women & Hi Tech, to highlight the organization’s mission that emphasizes equality and inclusivity amongst women in STEM and the organization’s continued focus on increasing the diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM here in Indiana and within their organization. 

The event entitled, “A Double Whammy or Triple Threat: The Disparity of Diversity Amongst Women in STEM,” was held to provide practical tips and tools on how to advance diverse female talent in the workplace.  The program began with a privilege exercise and a discussion about empathy, followed by a premiere panel of female STEM experts who shared their personal and professional experiences and offered suggestions on practical tools we can all employ to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion amongst women in our Indiana STEM community and workplace environments.

Dawn Rosemond, Partner and Director of Diversity, Professional Development, and Inclusion at Barnes & Thornburg, LLP, served as moderator and opened the panel describing the various dimensions of diversity and how the most inclusive teams incorporate members with broad dimensions of diversity.  While it is historically recognized that corporations have required a business case for diversity to get actionable about establishing inclusive environments, that case has since been made by national statistics and proven outcomes of diverse teams. “If we still have to make a business case for diversity in 2020, then you don’t really care about diversity,” Dawn exclaimed. 

Moreover, Dr. Crystal Morton, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Director of Girls in STEM Institute at Indiana University-Indianapolis, noted that diverse candidates recognize when they have been hired at an academic institutions or corporation to fill a quota.  Dr. Morton advised that “institutions must make sure that they are hiring diverse talent into environments that are not toxic, but are healthy and well positioned to provide the necessary support for diverse women to thrive.”  In this regard, retired Eli Lilly Director of Medical Communications, Dr. Elcira Villarreal, noted that “the composition and value set of the candidate selection committee is critical to ensure the recruitment and fair consideration of diverse female talent in any organization.” 

Once hired, the panel noted that there are additional challenges experienced by diverse women that are not necessarily experienced by majority or Caucasian women.  The old adage taught to so many diverse women that “you have to work twice as hard to get half as far,” was unanimously determined by the panel to be an unhealthy and unfruitful practice.   Notably, Dr. Sonya Smith, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Howard University, described the phenomenon coined as “pet to threat,” which is particularly relevant to women of color and African-American women as they encounter professional advancement and independence.  Leena Victoria, President and Co-Founder of Brite Systems, Inc., reiterated that “pet to threat” was a real phenomenon that she personally experienced in her career as she advanced from being a new software programmer to being the owner of her own technology company.

Additional challenges were highlighted by Professor Xuan-Thao Nguyen, Director of the Center for IP Innovation at IU McKinney School of Law, who provided several examples of how she has encountered personal and financial sacrifices, threats, resistance, and/or extreme unfairness when trying to advocate and lobby for more diverse talent in the faculty of several law school institutions in this country.  However, Professor Nguyen encouraged the audience to remain unrelenting, unapologetic, and vigilant in your efforts to push your institutions to establish an equitable and inclusive environment for diverse STEM talent, particularly diverse women.  Additionally, Linda Calvin, Vice President of School of IT at Ivy Tech Community College, encouraged the audience to address challenging situations around diversity head on and to not allow them to fester.  Ultimately, the audience was challenged to utilize their privilege as STEM professionals to help and champion other women, particularly diverse women.

All attendees were provided worksheets highlighting the “Dimensions of Diversity,” “Privileges vs. Barriers/Obstacles,” and a diversity dictionary comprising “The Top 20 Terms You Need to Know to Be Inclusive,” provided by Julie Kratz of Pivot Point.  The audience was also provided the following takeaways and action items to build work cultures that attract, retain, and/or advance diverse female STEM talent. 

  1. Incorporate members representing broad dimension of diversity to increase “Diversity of Thought” of teams
  2. Be aware of your privilege, the gradations of privilege, and use your privilege to empower others
  3. Forge strong relationships, leverage your position, and have the integrity to be your authentic self
  4. Do not work twice as hard, but demonstrate excellence in all that you do and how you show up
  5. Expose diverse girls/women and engage male allies
  6. Use your network and be an advocate
  7. Manage work environments to promote inclusion
  8. Service, training, & teambuilding expectations or requirements should be tied to or reflected in compensation and/or career advancement
  9. Empathy is humanness – One does not have to understand or know to advocate or act
  10. Women have a responsibility to mentor; mentees are not offspring
  11. “Girl Power” is required for diverse women to advance
  12. Build Your professional network to include organizations having qualified diverse candidates

Attendees socialized at a networking reception to conclude Women & Hi Tech’s 2020 kickoff event. 

Pictures from the event can be found here on our website.

A video recap of the event can be found on YouTube.

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