Blogs from The Wisest Women

October 18, 2021
Blog post written by The Wisest Women Co-Founder, Dr. Amber Miller

When I first heard the phrase, “double blind”, I thought it was referring to a component of a poker or casino game. The meaning is not nearly as fun as this gambling metaphor. Then I thought of  a double-blind study, where neither the experimenter nor participant knows who is receiving a specific treatment. While a very important process, I am introducing a different type of double blind scenario. Gender stereotypes create a no-win situation for women in the workplace, and we can combat this scenario by embracing assertiveness, especially assertive communication. The preoccupation with how men and women should behave makes us blind; however, we should use assertive communication to work on ourselves and society to overcome it.

The double blind is based on stereotypical beliefs that men naturally take charge (are decisive and assertive), while women naturally fill the caretaker role (are encouraging and nurturing). These stereotypes create an uphill battle for women as they take on leadership roles. I equate this to the Goldilocks scenario: the porridge is too hot, too cold, or just right. However, according to Catalyst, in the double blind scenario there is no “just right”.1 When women behave in accordance to their gender stereotype, they are considered to be nice, but not competent. When they act more like their male counterparts, they are assessed as competent, but unliked. Women are rarely found to be competent and liked. Additionally, women are held to a higher standard and forced to prove they can reach that standard over and over again (1). A publication by professors at Stanford GSB found that women who blend these two extremes for different situations are more successful and get promoted more often than other men and women. Knowing which situations need more direct approaches vs which situations need a softer touch can push women ahead of every other personality type (2). 

These cited articles were published a decade or two ago, when women were immensely concerned with whether they would be labeled as pushy, bossy, and at worst a bitch, simply for behaving similar to their male counterparts. While bossy and bitchy may be outdated, they have been replaced by adjectives such as intimidating, aggressive, and direct, which still connote the same negative perception. This double standard is incredibly confusing. Many of us are told that in order to “get ahead” we need to act more like men, but then we get penalized for acting like men. 

The counter side is that we also don’t want to be described as too emotional or sensitive. We are trained to make sure that the inflection of our voice doesn’t make everything sound like a question because this makes you appear less knowledgeable. We get told to not show our emotions or make a fuss because this makes you appear less competent. So much of our competency and abilities are measured by unconscious biases relating to gender stereotypes. 

How then do we move past these biases to be viewed as competent, collegial leaders in the workplace? My belief is that it all boils down to how we communicate with others. In a recent WISEcast episode, Girl Interrupted, Richa Bansal, Founder and CEO of PinkCareers, shared with us the art of assertive communication. She informed us that there are four basic communication styles: aggressive, passive aggressive, passive, and assertive. There are two aspects to each communication style: 1. How we express ourselves and what we want. 2. How we treat the other people involved. 

Both aggressive and assertive communication styles rely on the ability to explicitly express yourself to the other party involved. These are unlike passive and passive aggressive communication styles when you do not express yourself at all or you indirectly express your opinions, wants, and desires. This is based solely on how effectively we share our voices and how clear we are about our thoughts and wants. This may seem straightforward, but there are a few different layers to this. First, we have to know what our thoughts and wants are. This means we have to be aware of our values and needs. We have to know where our compass is pointing and then follow it. Secondly, we need to be aware of how we communicate our thoughts and wants. Are we making demands? Are we using rude language? I’m sure you are familiar with the saying: “It’s not about what you say, it’s about how you say it..” We are more likely to be heard, and heard correctly, when we are being respectful and communicating in an appropriate manner.

The second component of communication is how we treat the people involved. For me, this is the key differentiating factor between all of the communication styles. The goal of assertive communication is a win-win outcome. You are direct with what you need, but you are also aware and considerate of the needs of others involved. This is different from all the other styles, where there is at least one loser.  As we move towards breaking down gender biases, we should strive for inclusion and win-win situations.

Many gender biases and stereotypes are rooted in our unconsciousness. To move past these, we have to be aware of their presence and work to dismantle them. We need to embrace assertiveness, and be direct with the goal of creating win-win situations. We need to worry less about the traditional roles of men and women and focus on the skills that make great leaders and colleagues. If we all view each other as ambitious, assertive, and able, irrespective of gender, we will all be getting A’s rather than describing women as B’s. 

References:
1. https://www.catalyst.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/The_Double_Bind_Dilemma_for_Women_in_Leadership_Damned_if_You_Do_Doomed_if_You_Dont.pd
2. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/researchers-how-women-can-succeed-workplace 

September 12, 2021
Blog post written by The Wisest Women Content Creator Intern, Liliana Hildebrand

Imposter syndrome, an array of emotions that stems from fearing that you will be “found out” about your qualifications, is one of the most discussed topics in the steminism world. I’ve heard it so much when women in STEM discuss their struggles with work that I have come to the conclusion that imposter syndrome to women in STEM is just like black to clothes; it goes with everything. I also understand that sometimes I deserve to tell myself that I am not qualified for something because I do not have the experiences for a specific objective. Frequently, I want to blame those doubts on imposter syndrome, so that I can go along with my task and feed my ego. This is a habit I do not want to keep. Furthermore, I have found imposter syndrome associated feelings and actions to be unproductive. After research into the concept,  I have determined that one can decipher whether their feelings come from real talk if they look at where the feelings come from, the identity their feelings give them, and the solutions their feelings are guiding them to.  

I believe that any deep thinking done using an internal dialogue results in a partnership with yourself, and tools used to help social skills apply to improving that internal partnership. Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud, psychologists focusing on leadership, briefly discuss blame in a relationship in their book Boundaries in Dating. According to them, “we cannot ingest the truth from someone unless we know we are loved”, and truth without love is judgement. The voice of imposter syndrome, by definition and like a bad partner, invalidates your success and judges you through its critique. Real talk, like a great partner, seeks to improve you as a human being and keeps the dialogue centered on the moment itself and how you are an amazing person beyond your mistake.  If your internal dialogue is giving you a real talk, as Cloud and Townsend put it, “love dominates over hate.” An easy test is asking yourself if your internal dialogue is admitting to anything remotely positive about you.

When we act or feel, we step closer to an identity that results in how we and the world see us. An interesting point that Frank Zendejas, founder of ZSI Performance Coaching, made in our interview is that “criticism is fortifying a non-serving identity” that prevents improvement of our state. An example of this in imposter syndrome is the internal dialogue phrase “you are undeserving of this role.”  While that may be true for now, the “are” pulls you closer to making the undeserving state a permanent one, causing you to think of yourself entirely in that mistake, and starts a consuming cycle of negativity. Real talk, on the other hand, gives you an identity that is in terms of growing success. We can change “you are undeserving of this role” to “you are undeserving of this role right now” to make the identity supported by the phrase serving towards your success and shift from imposter syndrome feelings to real talk if needed.  

There comes a point in an internal dialogue when your mind is telling you to go do something about the issue. Frank Zendejas discusses two types of actions that occur after a breakdown: certain, associated with real talk, and non certain, associated with imposter syndrome. Both actions help the person calm down, but certain actions are the only ones that improve the objective situation.  Let’s go back to the Undeserving Role Scenario. If your action in the Undeserving Role Situation is to nap, you are not doing anything about your actual flaws and instead are procrastinating on feeling like a fraud or failure again. If you react to the situation by doing more research to better prepare you for your role, then real talk has inspired you to become a better person.

So what is the next step? Well, dear reader, you can take a special look at our podcast episodes Self Advocacy, Gravity Can’t Hold Us Down, and Knocked Up or Knocked Out that focus on imposter syndrome throughout various stages of women’s careers.  Next you can talk to others about their experiences with imposter syndrome. Lastly, you can watch webinars focused on imposter syndrome from professional groups such as the TED Talk website.


Sources:

  1. Frank Zendejas: Instagram: frank.zendejas & Website: https://www.ithriveon.com/
  2. Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Townsend and Dr. Cloud
  3. https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud
  4. https://www.betterself.sg/2017/06/4-ways-tough-love/
  5. https://medium.com/@BySonyamatejko/tough-love-the-truth-behind-loving-yourself-first-861ac0fc5233
  6. https://time.com/5312483/how-to-deal-with-impostor-syndrome/

August 18, 2021

Blog post written by the winner of our “Owning Your Identity” Blog Contest: Alaina Talboy, PhD

I used to believe the term academic was reserved for graduate students and professors, and that going into industry would mean giving up that identity. Now I know better. 

Only 3% of those with a PhD will become tenure track faculty.

The transition to industry is difficult, and we need to talk about the practical challenges, emotional costs, and mental effort needed to make the jump. It is easy to forget that academia is just one field, and a rather small one at that. There are many other sectors out there to explore! I’ve seen people with advanced degrees get positions in medicine, technology (like myself), government, and nonprofit. There shouldn’t be a taboo about leaving academia when the majority of graduates are advancing on to positions with great pay and benefits.

Since many of us with a PhD are expected to become professors, there is little guidance for making the jump to industry. We are taught how to write curriculum vitaes, not resumes, and the nuances to portfolio presentations in industry are vastly different from those in higher education. I wrote a bit about these issues in Five ways your academic research skills transfer to industry.

The hardest part for me personally was the mental and emotional toll of losing my academic identity. We all know the saying that once you leave academia, you can’t go back. We wrongly believe that whatever reason causes us to leave academia is the same as willfully choosing to give up a part of our identity. At least, that is how it feels after spending literal years being trained for one and only one job.

I am hopeful that this conversation comes up during your first year in graduate school, so you can minimize a bit of the emotional and mental toll that it takes to leave academia. Because let’s face reality here: most of us will not get a tenure track position. And that is okay! In fact, for most of us that is better than okay! Yes, it might feel depressing to recognize that reality. You might be incredibly sad. You may feel heartbroken because it’s the only job you’ve known and/or wanted for the last few years. I acknowledge and respect those feelings. But I also know you will go on to do something else because in the end, being a professor is just a job. And there are so many jobs in the world that PhDs are capable of doing.

When I first left academia, I felt that too. I spent weeks agonizing over my choice. I subjected my partner to a 20-hour long drive (round trip) while I worked through all of those feelings and all of those anxieties. It felt like I was leaving a part of me behind because I gave up tenure track to go to industry. I didn’t know if I could continue publishing my own research. I didn’t know if I could still teach people things I found interesting. I was afraid of making the wrong choice and closing a door on a career path that I had spent so many long years working toward and had finally achieved. I was terrified.

Then I started working in my first role outside of academia, in the technology sector. I joined a research team that was agile, meaning research moved at a very quick pace and cycled every few weeks. Several of my colleagues also came from an academic background and held advanced degrees, so they understood what I was going through. They were a great resource for learning the ropes and making the transition smoothly. Through that first opportunity and subsequent offers, I discovered that what I enjoyed most about academia was the freedom and autonomy to pursue research in ways that I saw fit, which I had in every role I’ve taken since finishing my PhD. And though I miss my particular niche of research and the courses I taught, I am finding so much more fulfillment in my day-to-day work than I originally expected, simply because it has that freedom and autonomy I value so much.

From my experience, it took about a year to really come to terms with the fact that I would likely never return to academia, at least in the very strictest sense. But something I also learned is that I am still very much an academic, despite closing that first door to staying in higher education. I am still changing people’s world views and making a difference. I am still an educator, teaching people things they didn’t know. I am a researcher and scholar and all of those things that come together to make me the academic that I am. The only difference is instead of being called professor, I took on the title of user researcher, design researcher, research scientist, or cognitive scientist as my job dictates. I will always be an academic no matter where I go.

Note: My experience is with the US higher education system. Experiences in academic systems outside the US may be different.

Published originally on personal website at: https://alainatalboy.com/being-an-academic/

Check out WISEcast’s episode on August 26th which delves into this topic: “Owning Your Identity: A Carer Pivot from Academia to Industry”

June 17, 2021
Blog post written by The Wisest Women Digital Marketing Intern, Caroline Romo. 

“That is why Hispanic people are failures”. Those were the words told to my mother when I was in elementary school for not having placed me in ESL classes. This teacher had no justification or reasoning for why I was to be put in ESL classes. I understood, spoke, and wrote English very well at a very young age and was even placed in the gifted and talented program, which was why my mother was defiant against my placement in ESL courses. Initially, I did not think much of this incident, but it was an initial indicator that my educational and life journey would not be easy. 

As a first generation student, I have experienced several hardships ranging from being told to “return where [I] came from” to applying to college on my own, but they have served as motivational reminders to work hard towards reaching all my academic and life goals.

I learned at a young age to value education as a result of it being the one thing my parents were unable to receive. Even as an elementary student, I was certain that I wanted to attend a 4-year college, but the process of applying for college was not as easy as simply saying, “ I would like to go to college”. Since neither of my parents were familiar with the college experience, much less the process of applying to college, I was entirely responsible for finding the resources and information necessary to apply such as: deadlines, fees, tuition, room and board, information to include in my personal statements, the scores necessary for the national college admissions exams, how to fill out FAFSA, and much more . Additionally, I recall having a difficult time deciding what major to choose because I did not know whether a career in STEM, such as biology, would be a reasonable option. I have had a strong passion for STEM and medically inclined sciences such as biology since I was in middle school, so it only made sense to major in something STEM related; However, there were several factors at play that made it more challenging than simply whether or not I was interested. I had to consider that pursuing a degree in biology and wanting to apply to dental school meant adding a financial strain on my family. 

I would have to pay tuition for an additional four to six years. I also had to consider what it would take to be a competitive applicant, to even be considered. Even though it was stressful and challenging, I was fortunate to have the unconditional support from my parents. They wanted me to be happy pursuing something I was passionate about.

Although I have faced and will continue to face challenges as a result of being a first generation student, I acknowledge that I would not be where I am if it were not for all the things my parents have given up for me. They have done everything in their power to give me a better quality of life, and I will gladly face any challenge headed in my direction if that means I can achieve creating a better future for myself and for my future generations. Now, I can proudly say that I am attending the college of my choice, and I am majoring in biology on the pre-dental track with the hopes of attending dental school and becoming the first doctor in my family. 

I am a first-generation, Hispanic female in STEM. I would not change any of my experiences if given the opportunity. It has made me strong-willed and hard-working. It has  motivated me to pursue my goals so that I can make myself and my family proud. I hope that other individuals that are also first generation students pursue what makes them feel fulfilled, especially if they are interested in STEM. This is my thank you letter to my parents and all first generation students who are determined to achieve their goals. 

June 12, 2021
Blog Post Written by The Wisest Women Co-Founder, Dr. Amber Miller

Your “why” is your purpose. It is the passion that drives you each day to get up and do a job that only you are uniquely suited for. My friends and family do a much better job than I at describing my strengths and skills that make me “great” at my job and uniquely suited to do it well. It’s not that I’m a pessimist, I’m actually almost an eternal optimist, but I have a hard time realizing that not everyone is good at the things I am good at. My life lens just assumes if I can do it, anyone or everyone can do it.  

My non-eloquent, non-verbose self would tell you I just try really, really hard, and I want to do a good job. I’m not perfect nor do I really want to be. The scientist in me knows this is an unattainable goal and, therefore, shouldn’t be worried about. However, I do want the things that I do to be done as close to perfect as possible. I know this seems counterintuitive if I just said perfection is unattainable, but perfection is my motivation to do a good job. It is the motivation to continue to work to find solutions to a problem there HAS to be a solution for, even if it seems impossible or unrealistic. This grit and persistence is often all that I feel like I bring to the table. However, thanks to increased reflection time, mentoring, and my incredible support network, I have begun to realize, I have a little more to offer than just perseverance. We all have amazing things that we can offer, but it’s not just what we can offer, but what we can do with all that we have to offer. 

I love my job, but as with most things, it can be challenging and frustrating.  Much of it is trying to come up with ideas for how to help people understand and work through complex situations, so that they can be successful. But I want to help with more than just the here and now, I also want to prepare them for future obstacles. I want to give them the wisdom that when an unexpected challenge crosses their path, that they are capable of kicking that challenge’s butt and getting past it. To use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

I enjoy the work that I do, and if you asked me why I do it, it is easy to give a plethora of answers. 1. I want people to have the ability to find their passions and be successful at them. 2. I want people to have the resources they need to be successful. 3. I want to help reduce gender and racial gaps in the workplace. 4. I want people to love science as much as I do. 5. I want to use my unique skill set to leave the world a better place. My whys seem so clear and apparent. They are easy for me to vocalize. Well, as easy as anything is for me to vocalize, which is actually not easy. 

But then life happens. Things don’t go quite as planned, and that’s when doubt creeps in. Am I actually uniquely suited for this job? Am I even making a difference? Maybe I should give up and do something else. I know my friends believe in me and would tell me that I am making a difference. They would tell me that I am uniquely qualified to do this job and so much more. Yet, when the authorities don’t echo the same sentiments, when what seems so logical and important does not seem to be what is valued, it is easy to have doubts, to question your ability, to lose your confidence. To think your friends are just saying nice things because they are your friends. It’s easy to feel lost and unsure. It’s easy to think, maybe I was wrong about my “why”. 

But don’t fall into the pit of despair. You can visit for a minute if you need to because, honestly, sometimes we need to. Then get up and put on your big girl pants because we have some work to do. Use this shake-up to evaluate what matters in your life. Set aside time to think and explore. If you could only do one thing for the rest of your life, what would you want it to be? What legacy do you want to leave? When are you the happiest and most excited? What makes you feel productive and like a contributing member of society? What is the one thing you would continue to do no matter how many times someone told you, “You can’t do that” or “NO!”? 

Dig deep. 
Be honest. 

What did you figure out? Did it align with your previous version of “why”? Because that’s what you did. You just found your “why” again. You can’t actually lose it. It can feel like you can, but it is the passion stirring inside you. It can change, and that is awesome! Because as we experience life, as we grow, we may be driven by different things. We can’t expect our 18 year old “why” to match up with our 40 year old “why”. Think of all the life you have lived in those 22 years. We can change our why, enhance it, grow it, but we can’t ever lose it. Sometimes we just need to rediscover it again.

June 10, 2021
Blog post written by The Wisest Women Content Creator Intern, Liliana Hildebrand

According to Cech and Loy, 43% of women in STEM go part time after having kids versus the 23% of men who do the same. The causes of this trend start in key developing years, such as college. As a college student myself, I know that I fear losing my identity to parenthood after working so hard for a career and recognize that, if kids are in my future, I will need to prepare and talk things through with my future spouse to make neither of us a married, single parent. I also  know that my opinions are just one perspective of my generation, so I enlisted the help of some friends to show routes that parents in STEM can take and the fears college women and men have when they think about parenthood. As long as a person feels that they are making their choices based on their own priorities, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the choice of whether or not to have kids.

One of the flaws of steminism ideology is that it can look down upon people who choose to stop their careers for parenthood because steminism fears that, if women aspire to be stay-at-home-moms, they will lack motivation to go after STEM careers. However, Lindsey Harrington and Daniel Morrison show that college kids view this as a valid path. Lindsey’s goal is to work in the STEM field for a few years, then be a stay at home mom when she has kids and ultimately return to the STEM field as a teacher when her kids become a certain age.   Daniel reported a willingness to set aside his career to spend more time with his kids, if his spouse was willing to be the breadwinner. These are valid life plans for parents in STEM because parenthood is more than a career, and remember, one of the roots of steminism is encouraging a woman’s right to choose their path in life. In her testimonial, Lindsey did not imply that her future in motherhood was dictated by societal roles or the possible career choices of her future spouse, and Daniel’s testimony shows that college men are comfortable with setting aside their careers for family, as well.  They are confident enough in their own abilities and goals to go with a career and family path that is controversial to what the stereotypical feminist promotes. If steminism is about empowering women to choose STEM, then it should also empower men and women that decide they do not want to have an ambitious career.

Despite the confidence women in STEM have gained in their own abilities, the fear of a world not ready for STEM mothers still exists in college students. When asked about her perspective on parenthood Jade Blanco, a chemical engineering student, discussed how motherhood in STEM  is often viewed as a “liability because now the woman has less time to devote to her studies.” While having kids does make work less of a priority for people, it should not be viewed as a liability, but, if it is, any potential parent is liability, not just women. Reading about this reminds me of “mom guilt”, where a woman feels guilty for spending time at work and not with her kids. Our jobs tell us having kids make us not loyal employees and our culture has told us that having an ambitious career outside of kids makes us selfish. This makes the decision to have kids all the more confusing if women are met with contradictory opinions on working in motherhood. Luckily two women in STEM have inspired me and my friend on how to make motherhood in STEM work.

Dr. Eva Lantsoght, a civil engineer featured in Wisecast’s “The Concrete Details of Ph.D. Stress,” was able to get pumping rooms added to her university when she was nursing by simply asking her supervisor about where she could pump milk for her kid. Another example is Dr. Jessica Ruyle, who is in the electrical and computer engineering department at the University of Oklahoma. She was the first professor in her department to ever go on maternity leave. They rewrote their entire policy because what they had in place was impossible for her to work motherhood around. However, Dr. Ruyle’s case did not go unchallenged.  In a department with a striking small amount of women a common mindset, and one Dr. Ruyle faced, was, “why would a department that is 97% male need a well-written and forgiving maternity leave?” Julia Felder, a chemical engineering major, Dr. Ruyle’s cousin, and the person who relayed this information to me, believes the problem can be rephrased: “do you think a poor maternity leave policy might be contributing to the fact that the department is only 3% female?” Simply by asking and making the issue known, Dr. Lantsoght and Dr. Ruyle were able to pave a better life for future mothers in their departments and to make the concept of motherhood in STEM seem less intimidating for college women.

College males view the potential of parenthood and a STEM career as one that will cause time issues. Rahul Gopalan describes how “it is important as a parent to be clear with one’s children, and let them know that you might not be there at all times.” There is importance  in setting boundaries and talking to your children about those boundaries. This can help them understand that parenthood does not have to consume a person, a fear about parenthood that I had growing up. By having this mindset, future generations can see how STEM and parenthood can function. However, the prospect of time commitment can still be daunting; a concept that Spencer Ellis believes the salary for STEM professionals can combat. One of his most significant takeaways from the pandemic is that some STEM jobs can be done from home, which means that parents can do their 10am meeting and still make it on time to their child’s talent show at 11:30am. He also notes the amount of money that comes with being part of the STEM field might include paid “maternity/paternity leave”, which is certainly part of why many people go into STEM. Rahul and Spencer show how, while it can be time stressful, being a father in STEM is something worth doing.

Both  male and female college students recognize that time is the main issue when it comes to parenthood in STEM, but for different reasons. Women’s primary fear focuses on the stigma surrounding STEM parenthood because they are already at a disadvantage in the workplace and anything that prevents them from “working twice as hard to receive the same payment” can have harsh consequences such as earning less, not getting promotions, and harassment. In comparison, men’s fear focused on only not having time for their kids. From being exposed to American culture, society favors women as parents and men as professionals which can put their perspective on time and the solutions contradictory. Women’s solutions to the time issue involves promoting awareness of the issue and changing policy on a large scale while men’s solutions tend to be more “it is what it is.”

From Lindsey’s aspirations to be a stay at home mom to my near fear of parenthood, as long as your choices align with your values, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing to be a parent in STEM. However, the differences between women and men’s fears indicate that change is going in the right direction and still necessary. What’s next is up to you, dear steminism tribe member. An easy way to help with change is to share this blog post and subscribe for more wise content for you only know as much as you try to learn.  Another way is to talk to the youth you know about this topic and blog post because, as I stated before, mine is only one perspective. My last recommendation, if you are ready for this leap, is to look into your job’s paternity policies and actively right the wrongs in them as change does not happen without a little crazy boldness. 

Special Thanks to Jade Blanco (Chemical Engineering; University of Texas), Spencer Ellis (Physics; Texas A&M University), Julia Felder (Chemical Engineering; Texas A&M University), Rahul Gopalan (Biomedical Engineering; Texas A&M University), Lindsey Harrington (Multidisciplinary Engineering; Texas A&M University), Daniel Morrison (Applied Math; Texas A&M University), Jillian Poteet (Biomedical Engineering; Texas A&M University), and Aaron Vera (Electrical Engineering; Texas A&M University) for their insights on this topic.

Resources:
WISEcast Episode 5: Knocked Up or Knocked Out
WISEcast Episode 6: Knocked Up or Knocked Out Part 2

Sources:
https://www.pnas.org/content/116/10/4182

June 8, 2021
Blog post written by The Wisest Women Co-Founder, Dr. Richa Chandra.

I keep finding myself in conversations about the  “myth of having it all” with my friends and colleagues. We talk about it at work, during happy hours, and at play dates with the kids. We consistently see this topic in headlines and social media. We find solace in this thought and a camaraderie with other working women. However, I think the fixation on this concept is becoming counterproductive in our society.

One of our previous episode guests, Anamika Saxena, an IT professional with a Masters in Computer Science, shared in WISEcast’s episode Knocked Up or Knocked Out, “something always has to give.” Whether it is your personal life, health and fitness, family time or professional trajectory – it’s hard to be successful in all arenas, all at the same time. I think that’s the critical piece to turning this myth into fact. Perhaps we need to reexamine the idea of being all things at once. We also need to be better at getting to 50/50 in our relationships and domestic partnerships.

Most of the time, I feel like I have it all. With my family, home, career, social life, and my passion project with The Wisest Women. I am there for my kids when they perform in talent shows. I drop or pick them up from school most of the week. I take them to music lessons, help with science projects, pretend to be a dinosaur or airport traffic control on the playroom floor, and help my daughter prep for her weekly spelling test. I try to cook at home several times a week, and manage most of the project management of running my household. I’m not usually a mess about it either. I’m finding this balance by pushing my relationship to 50/50 and by including my children in my professional and personal goals. 

Pushing my relationship has been the biggest and most uncomfortable challenge. In the transition from dating to marriage, I found myself just taking on more “at home” responsibilities that were more traditional to old-fashioned gender norms. I was the one who always meal planned, executed in the kitchen, and even cleaned up after. This was comfortable for my husband as he was raised in a traditional Indian household. I happened to be adept at doing all of this because I lived independently for over a decade.  Of course, it felt wrong and became a central point of many altercations. I jokingly say that the first year of our marriage was an intense husband boot camp. We started to find more balance with the home chores. 

Again, I had to push the line more after I had my daughter. Now part of my “at home” and traditional responsibilities involved the biological duties of nurturing an infant. I made word documents on our family computer titled “What you can do, while I am breastfeeding.” I know it sounds crazy, but it was a necessary strategy for us to re-tool the traditional gender roles into more equitable and efficient strategies to make our home function and our relationship thrive. So, while it hasn’t been pretty, I do not regret making these pushes. Hopefully, the way we raise our children will make the boot camps in domestic partnerships less intense in the future.

Another big part of having it all with the work/life balance involves my two firecrackers. I have a daughter, who is almost 8, and like her mommy wants to grow up to be a scientist and professor. Of course, this will change over time, but I’ve managed to spark her interest in science by bringing her to my campus on several occasions. For example, she skipped school to witness a big science event with the solar eclipse in 2017. She and my son pop into my Zoom classroom on occasion and in research group meetings. My 4 year old son wants to be an engineer with his love of using his hands and understanding how everything works. I intentionally bring my work to my home in a meaningful way. Pre-pandemic, I would host my research team for a family style brunch at our house every year, and I invite my colleagues to birthday celebrations outside the work environment. It’s important for our families and work family to see a holistic picture of who we are in all aspects of life. I know for my daughter, when I tell her I’m heading up to campus to teach a class and can’t pick her up on a given day, she now gets the significance of what I do. 

Nothing is as perfect as it seems. My intricate balance came crashing down on me at several junctures. I allowed this sentiment to dominate my mindset. Most often these crashes revolved around major life events like complications with birth, the arduous years of pumping and breastfeeding, deaths, the pandemic, hurricanes, identity theft, mother nature, and all sorts of things that were never in my control. When my world seemingly crumbled like this, I felt like I needed to quit something or that something had to give. During those difficult moments, I, like so many women, contemplated my career track and professional dreams.

In hindsight, I’ve overcome these obstacles and feelings of quitting because of uncontrollable life events by simply persisting, and not giving up. Part of persisting involves conversation and finding your tribe. I surround myself with peers and mentors I trust. I turn to them and openly receive their advice. So, even though I thought about changing my career track and giving up professional dreams, I stayed in the fight. I didn’t change my dreams. I didn’t change the number of responsibilities on my plate. Like I said, it wasn’t pretty – and I had to be ok with “done is better than perfect” during those times. 

I recognize, there are more life events and unexpected forces of nature to come at me, but I think I’m getting more resilient and becoming grittier as Angela Duckworth describes successful people do in her aptly titled book Grit. This kind of persistence and productive reflection through conversations within your tribe is something I am finding in common with so many of the women we met through our podcast WISEcast. Dr. Alicia Volmar in Episode 11, Rags to Thesis overcame homelessness to get her Ph.D. Dr. Brittany Baretto continues as a successful entrepreneur after she developed a successful million dollar start-up company Pheramor that due to privacy restrictions with genetic information was terminated. 

Hand in hand with resilience and grit also comes forgiveness. We need to forgive ourselves for these apparent failures. We should not overly obsess about work/life balance. We should not give the “myth of having it all” too much power. Instead, we should embrace the fact that – you can’t have it all at the same time. But, you can have it all over the course of your personal and professional life. So, my message to empower you when you read this, is to turn the myth into fact, forgive yourself when life gets rough, and enjoy having it all when the timing is right and during the different seasons of life.

June 5, 2021
Blog post written by The Wisest Women Marketing Director Intern, Alma Hernandez. 

Two best friends are on a mission to reach equity in STEM and education. The Wisest Women was created to bring awareness to the barriers women face and encourage more women to pursue STEM. 

Women are still being seen as not having the potential to have the same ability and roles as men specifically in male-dominated fields such as in STEM. 

To bring community equality, two esteemed professors from the University of St.Thomas had the idea to create a program that brought awareness to the clear gender gap in a more relevant way. The Wisest Women was created by Dr. Richa Chandra, an associate professor and research chair of chemistry and Dr. Amber Miller, a STEM success director and research manager. 

As educators and scientists, they’re constantly thinking about their crafts and how to improve and make an impact. Therefore when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they were ready to provide change in a time where people were feeling not connected. 

WISEcast was then born. 

WISEcast addresses these issues by encountering real conversations of challenges women face in STEM, provide opportunities, and present stories from successful women in STEM. 

Alma Hernandez: What does a powerful woman mean to you? 
Dr. Richa Chandra: “When I think powerful, it means that you’ve empowered somebody else. I think that it’s not like I’m some super woman and I get to have all these awards. They mean nothing, if I haven’t had the impact that I want to make for younger women. I’m hoping that every person by having interactions with me whether it’s in teaching or in this organization, has an opportunity to grow themselves. That’s when I feel powerful.” 
Dr. Amber Miller:“A powerful woman is someone who can use all of the things around them to come up with the best solutions for problems. You automatically assume they have power, but they utilize all of the resources they have at their disposal to do the most good that they can do. That’s the kind of the power that we all have, the ability to make an impact in the most cohesive and inclusive way possible.” 

AH: How do you mix professor and podcast life?
RC:“I’m very strict about scheduling. I set aside certain times where I work on The Wisest Women stuff. There are other times that I keep protected for my professional goals as a professor. I try to keep the worlds separate. When I’m in mom mode, I’m in mom mode, I’m not in professor mode, I’m not a podcast host, we just learn to compartmentalize” 
AM:“ Finding the will to use the science, the equilibrium between it all. It’s just the pivot and the ability to prioritize and use your momentum to do things. I’ve learned a lot about how it’s not about trying to change ourselves to be this person that we think we should be or to work in this specific way that we think effective people work. It’s a process when you’re trying to build new habits and develop different skills.” 

AH: What impact do you want to make? 
RC: “Like we say, close the gender gap. There are unfair policies, but there’s also a lot of work to be done with women as well such as advocating for ourselves and to grow ourselves in the mindset of knowing we have that value. I hope that the women that are listening to the podcast whether they’re undergraduate or early career professionals, when they hear something, they’re forced to think about it.” 
AM: “ Leaving this legacy. That people know that we made a difference. That we tried to push the boundaries, and help people to find their passions and pursue them. We’re all weird, quirky, individual people and we all have different skill sets and abilities to do things amazingly. We need to figure out how to tap into those and do the most productive thing we can with that to change the world.” 

AH: Any advice for young women wanting to pursue STEM? 
RC: “Do your research, and know what each field involves. Then have more conversations with people who have arrived in those professional areas because there’s so much you can do. I would advise professional STEM aspirants to investigate before you get into it. Even if you do get into it, and you don’t love it, don’t be afraid to change course. One of the many advantages we have as women is that we live longer.” 
AM: “You have to have enough confidence to know your worth and value to understand that if it’s something you love, do it. You’re going to be so much happier for doing it. There are hard blocks along the way. We have to make sure that across the board, we’re open minded to help everybody be successful.” 

The Wisest Women plan to keep enhancing their mission through social media awareness and discussion.

“The Wisest Women have welcomed men into their audience, something I believe is unique among feminist organizations. They have made their podcast more than social justice, they exemplify what they are teaching,” WISEcast intern Liliana Hildebrand states when describing her experience at The Wisest Women. 

Even with many years in the making, women still have a difficult time pursuing equality among different fields. WISEcast addresses the perspectives of people specifically women who are going through this in order to bring light to these situations. Dr. Chandra and Dr. Miller use their backgrounds to engage rising STEMinistas and create a more inclusive environment. The Wisest Women showcase a variety of topics that touch on imposter syndrome, different career lifestyles, and the rawness of what it means to be a woman in STEM. 

Most of all, they exhibit that women can do everything. 

And women deserve to be seen as more than just women.

February 20, 2021
Blog post written by The Wisest Women Marketing Intern, Liliana Hildebrand.

As a freshman in high school, I found solidarity looking at feminist posts on Pinterest, my life’s purpose in marching band, and my fashion sense in Minion shirts. Four years later, now an Industrial and Systems Engineering major at Texas A&M University, I can thankfully say that is no more.  Because now I create feminist content for The Wisest Women and address the sexism in my daily life. What is this movement that has stood the test of time? Merriam Webster dictionary describes feminism as the movement pushing towards “political, economic, and social equality” of males and females . While this seems like a reasonable cause to get behind, it is often with hesitation due to a confusion on what feminism really is. Today we change that.

One of my favorite defenses of feminism is by our own Wisest Woman, Dr. Richa Chandra, who looks at feminism like she looks at kinetics in chemistry. She describes how there are certain basic rights that humans should have that should be on either side of the equation. When at equilibrium, the forward rate of a reaction equals the reverse rate. The goal is to reach an equilibrium for these basic rights on both sides of the equation.

Millicent Fawcett, a feminist and writer, led Britain’s largest women’s rights association from 1897-1919.

Rightswomen = Rightsmen

Even if we have those same rights, Kathy Caprino in her Forbes magazine article on why feminism is mistrusted, points out that “same does not mean equal.” While reading this article, I wondered why this quote stuck out to me. It is because it reminds me of the Brown vs Board of Education’s notable phrase “separate does not mean equal.”  Even though it is defined that we are “not discriminate[d against] based on age, race, or gender”, it does not mean we are perceived as equal, especially in STEM. 

I remember coming home for winter break and, while discussing my hopes to get a Master of Public Health in Occupational Safety in a 3 + 2 program offered by Texas A&M, being told to go into finance instead, so I would not have to face the social struggles of women in STEM as harshly. This benevolent sexism claims to save women from pain by warning them. The person who told me to go towards finance was a well-meaning person, but it allows them to be okay with a system that is unfair to women under the pretense that “they signed up for this” and “this is part of the field.”  By having this pretense, women are discouraged from standing up for themselves and from trying to climb up the success ladder because they fear the unfair treatment. Unfortunately, this phenomenon goes beyond STEM. 

While considering my options for after high school, my cousin, a young, male Navy veteran, who has always supported my dreams, told me that “the military is no place for a woman.” Even though this statement did not change my plans for the future, it stuck with me a year and a half later because it shows how social inequality between men and women is rooted in one of the United States’ most respected institutions. 

I have been told that things are getting better, but these examples do not seem to represent the prospect. I have brought this up in conversation and was combated with how my parents’ generation is too set in their ways, so it falls in the lap of mine to make the change happen. What this person fails to understand is that my parents’ generation sets the example for mine. I learned what loving a job looks like from my mom, can I also learn to stay in a marriage for the sake of my kids? It is also unfair to pin the responsibility on future generations because it takes away the responsibility from the people who taught it to them.  

Regardless of whether this blog post has inspired you to march in a women’s parade, donate to The Wisest Women, or follow a women-in-STEM Instagram I want to leave you with a challenge: continue reading about feminism, continue exploring your thoughts, and continue noticing sexism in your daily life. 

Sources:
1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feminism

2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2017/03/08/what-is-feminism-and-why-do-so-many-women-and-men-hate-it/?sh=5e85283e7e8e

Career Corner

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