To Black Women In STEM

There are too many times where Black women aren’t given the proper respect that they deserve. From personal experience, the constant belittling and undermining of my intelligence and hard work often gets frustrating. Battling these daily challenges requires a lot of motivation. 

To be a woman in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields is challenging enough, but the challenges one endures as a Black woman is exceedingly more than one can imagine.

Did you know that in 2010, women accounted for only 28% of workers in STEM-qualified industries? Steadily, these numbers are on the rise, but men still overwhelmingly dominate STEM workforces. 

Women working in computer, science, and engineering fields are also paid an average of 81% of what men get paid for the same jobs. Most of the few women who are a part of the STEM industry aren’t women of color, either.

A report revealed that in 2017, Black women accounted for only 5 percent of managerial jobs in STEM. The lack of Black women in STEM-related jobs can cause many individuals to look down on our performances in leadership positions– or even as students in the classroom. Because people look at our race and assume we’re not smart enough, we’re discriminated against and underrepresented in these job fields. 

Coming from experience, this is very accurate. I’m currently enrolled in AP physics, a class that’s quite challenging to say the least, and I have had my intelligence undermined countless times. When my teacher asks questions, I often get stares from classmates when I raise my hand to answer questions about what we’re learning in class, as if they are surprised I know the correct answer.

It doesn’t look like the STEM industry as a whole has done much to combat this problem that many Black women face. Research shows that there hasn’t been much of an increase in minority women joining these workforces, despite more women earning degrees in these fields

This is likely the case because Black women often feel that the constant belittling in work, schools, etc. is just too much to handle. The underlying reasons why diversity and inclusivity have not progressively gotten better over time is because of the constant reminder that we’re not “good enough”, which is far from the truth. 

As two UNC Chapel Hill researchers stated in 2012, “Race and gender that deviate from the norm should be valued for possessing a two-dimensional perspective and unique life experiences that further STEM exploration. Instead, those possessing the existence of both features are often underestimated.”

The fact that Black women often cite feelings of isolation, mistreatment by colleagues and management, and lack of opportunities as the reasons they leave the STEM fields reaffirms the pervasiveness of racism in the workforce.

But maybe it’s time we take a different approach to this problem as a whole. When are we going to say enough is enough? When is the STEM industry going to stand up for our young Black women aspiring to be astronauts, engineers, or nurses? Certainly not now, or maybe not ever. So what do we do? It’s left to us to make that decision.

Meaning, the hard truth is that nobody will be as down for us as us. I know that may sound like a tongue twister, but it’s quite simple really. The phrase simply means that we hold the key to success because our perseverance is what keeps us going. 

We may often feel discouraged when we hear belittling remarks about ourselves & our intelligence, but that’s the more reason to keep going. To end the stigmas, to keep pushing when things get tough, and ultimately never let go of the desire to accomplish our dreams. The more we work hard and emphasize that Black women can thrive in STEM, the more leaders future generations of Black girls will have to look up to.

Dear woman in STEM, keep working hard to achieve your goals. We’re intelligent, diligent, and dedicated, regardless of what society may say. 

Featured photo: Mae C. Jemison, the first Black woman to travel to outer space. Photo from Refinery29.

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