The small number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is one of our nation’s most significant talent management crisis. The future of our nation’s technological advantages in the global economy rests on fully engaging talented women to pursue STEM degrees. Unfortunately, while there may be more women enrolling in STEM majors, this is no guarantee that they will actually remain in those careers. In fact, one study found women comprise 20% of engineering school graduates but only 11% of practicing engineers. And of those practicing engineers, the National Science Foundation reports that just 2% are Hispanic women!
It’s hard work to manage a career in any field but when that field is dominated by white men and the industry culture is largely set by white men—the challenge may feel insurmountable for any Latina. Part of the key to addressing the challenge is to decode the mystery of leading in STEM. I offer three important observations after having completed a PhD at age 26 and then navigated a large number of consulting assignments in the tech and health care sector: First, don’t do this alone. Get a network that will support you through the hard times of navigating people, projects and politics!
Next, make yourself visible on the job for all the right reasons–solving problems, communicating effectively, and keeping up with your industry. Given the competitive nature of the tech sector, you will need to make the business case for your seat at the table. So know what you’re worth to your employer, your team and your boss.
And last, but not least: Mujeres embrace nothing less than your inner “mandona“–yes your bossiness! Successful women and Latinas in particular recognize and respond to anything patently unfair, disrespectful, and downright insulting with clarity and conviction. One of the most difficult career and life lessons to master is that people will treat you the way you allow them to treat you. Seize the moment early in your professional relationships to redirect or confront someone who doesn’t understand your role, your value, and your perspective. A reputation for being direct, professional, and politically savvy goes a long way to getting the respect your deserve and building a great career!
Maria Hernandez, PhD is President and COO of Impact4Health and author of the syndicated blog Latina Cubicle Confidential™. A long-time advocate for Latinas, Maria is also co-founder of the nonprofit LatinaVIDA with a mission to inspire the next generation of Latina executives. Dr. Hernandez serves on the Board of Directors for AAA Northern California, Nevada and Utah and the Board of Trustees for Alameda Health System in Northern California.