Contending with the Double Consciousness of Being a Young Professional in STEM and a WoC in STEM
“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”
~ W.E.B Du Bois
By Jasmine Johnson
A week has passed and I am finally beginning to settle into being a young professional in STEM.
I’ve learned a lot in just a few days and it has been everything I’ve expected and more. Within that time, the flow of orientation and assisting others with their projects has quickly transitioned to me formulating products for projects of my own and getting used to the flow of it all. As a new, young professional in STEM, it feels as if I am rediscovering who I am as a person and as a woman of color (WoC).
The National Science Foundation notes that of those working in STEM fields, only two percent are Black women. Because I have been “prepared” to understand that I would not only be a part of this small community, but that our lack of representation would be noticeable, I’ve come to realize the importance of WoC in STEM sticking together.
As amazing and humbling as it is to have this position, I battle with an internal pressure to adequately represent the small tribe of Black women in STEM, and feel I have to put my best foot forward at all times. The first-week jitters of being the “new girl” coupled with this pressure to be representative of WoC in STEM had me on edge.
I love my work environment and my co-workers as they have treated me so well, but my personal battle of feeling as if I’m the example for other women and girls who look like me and aspire to hold the same position, overshadowed the first half of my starting week. Because we are so few and far between, the weight of that responsibility was heavy on my mind.
As a chemist and WoC in the beauty industry, I take pride in the fact that my opinion matters for diversity and excellence in the science as well as the products. Being the only voice to represent WoC is both exciting and overwhelming because it is a real-life example of why the two percent of Black women in STEM need to be heard and why that number should increase.
Words of Advice
If you’re battling with being a young professional in STEM and the pressure to represent all Black women, the reality is that you should take pride in both titles and enjoy the experience that is so rare.
If you are starting a new career as a WoC in STEM, be aware that you may be the only one in your department, office or lab, but don’t let it stifle your growth. I’ve realized this is a problem for me and I am learning to lean into being the only one.
At the end of the day, remember that you are not only an asset, but a change agent paving the way for WoC to be in the same position as you. The weight on your shoulders of being a WoC in STEM may be present, but never let it overshadow that you are doing what you love: science.
Copyright © 2016 by Jedidah Isler
All rights reserved. The content above or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of #VanguardSTEM except for the use of brief quotations, with attribution, and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to #VanguardSTEM, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at email@example.com