A Seat at the Table: Representation and Inclusion in STEM
by Natasha Berryman, #VS Editor-in-Chief
This month, #VanguardSTEM (#VS) has set out to equip our community with helpful information on conferences. Our goal is simple: to position all to approach this exciting time in the academic and professional season with confidence, insight and a hunger for the fruit it can bear when we approach it intentionally. Conferences present an excellent opportunity to not only be more informed, celebrate the accomplishments of others, demonstrate financial savvy, and to be heard/seen/active in the STEM scene, but they also often serve as forums in which the tough issues that bog us down as we STEM are either addressed or made painfully clear.
One such issue is, inevitably, representation. Why inevitably? Because while many of us will attend at least one conference that combines STEM identity with personal identity, for the vast majority, the bulk of the conferences we attend will not. These types of conferences still have much to offer, but the chance that you may be the only one increases significantly. I imagine that like myself, when many of you find that the variety of melanin in the room (or other characteristic that sets you apart) is quite narrow, you not only notice it, but the weight of being just one or one a few has bearing on your mind.
I was wrestling with how to start this post, so I took to the Internet for inspiration and to see what folks are saying about representation in STEM. I had hoped to find a rousing TED-Talk-like video to share, or an article on a site that discussed how to navigate these spaces. I wanted something positive to point to, but my search results fell on a different area of the spectrum and were anything but encouraging.
Representation in STEM is an issue and it doesn’t look like anyone has identified a viable solution to fix it—and I can’t help but to wonder why.
For decades, communities of government, academic institutions, corporate organizations and a slew of non-profits have been talking about the need to increase diversity in STEM. They’ve also invested money, time and effort into taking steps to do so—but has the needle moved? Are we actually being effective? And if so, why is it that historically underrepresented groups steadily rise to represent more and more of the US workforce, but continue to represent such small numbers in STEM subsets?
I can’t help but hypothesize that the answers to these questions don’t distill down to a single solution. I think it’s going to take many—so not just inspiring recruitment messages, but also programs, departments and workplaces that make you want to stay. Not just access to education and appropriate training, but also mentorship from folks who not only see your potential, but advocate for you when your voice is lost to bureaucracy. There must be safe spaces, informed thinking, leaders who look like you, leaders who don’t—and open, upright dialogue between them all.
It can be one of the most uncomfortable moments in the world when you look around and realize that you may be asked—directly or indirectly—to represent your race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin or ancestry, disability, parental status, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, status as a veteran, etc. And yet, that’s often our reality.
This is a tough issue and while neither I nor #VanguardSTEM claims to have all the answers, we are dedicated to creating a space in which we can begin to formulate them through discussion. In that spirit, I’m excited for the content we’ll be sharing this week. In addition to featuring our #WCWinSTEM who has taken the Internet by storm with her intelligence, wit and heart for being a #WOC role model in STEM, we’ll also hear from Dr. Sabriya Stukes in a two-part series on representation and inclusion.
Dr. Stukes—a microbiologist and immunologist who co-founded Connect with STEM—tackles these two issues which rise to the top of many of our minds during conference season. These societal ideologies seem to be critical for success, but are missing more often than not from our STEM spaces. The authenticity and intensity of her galvanizing words give me LIFE, and I hope you enjoy the series, which we’ll release on Tuesday and again on Thursday, as much I did.
There’s going to be lots of Black Girl Magic this week—are you ready to weigh in?
Copyright © 2016 by Jedidah Isler
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