THE BLOG

Let's Break Down Ethnic And Gender Barriers in STEM Fields

02/03/2015 11:45 am ET | Updated Apr 05, 2015
Image Source via Getty Images

As a Hispanic woman in a male-dominated field, I've experienced firsthand how one's gender and ethnicity can create unjust roadblocks on the path to professional success. As a result, women and Hispanics are both underrepresented in the STEM industry, but I believe we can break through these barriers.

To share a personal example through my experiences and career, I've learned that you never know when one opportunity may lead to another. A few years ago, I was named to a Hispanic business publication's list of Top Five Women and was invited to attend an awards ceremony. While there, I had a conversation that led to me being asked to join the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. It was one of those times where I paused and thought, "The White House?!?" Of course, I agreed to serve immediately.

It's been a great experience for me, but you don't have to serve on a White House panel to make a difference. We can all help inspire change, and to do so, there are key steps we can take with our children and mentees to encourage higher representation of both minorities and women in these critical fields. And they're easy to remember -- just think STEM:

  • Strong encouragement: It comes from parents, grandparents, teachers, friends and the media. A young person's confidence should be developed and nourished so that they know they can do what they want to do even if it's in a field where they're outnumbered. Confidence is key.
  • Time and resources: Give a little bit of your time or financial resources. Collectively, we can support organizations that promote focus and leadership.
  • Exposure to industry leaders: Do this at an early age, and do it repeatedly throughout their education. Many students want to go into professions that help others, and think that they must become a doctor or nurse to fulfill that desire. But engineers have had profound effects on human civilization and the technological advances we all enjoy today. Their work has reached -- and helped -- billions of people.
  • Model behavior: Role models are important and can have considerable impact on a young person's choices. If a young girl can see a woman whose profession is STEM-based, they can point to her and say, "If she can do it, so can I."

If we can all work on these initiatives, young women and minorities will feel more supported and confident engaging in STEM and in their dream careers. Furthermore, the talent they can bring to the field will not only diversify, but help achieve our full potential of discovery and technological innovation.