2%

Have you heard?

30-year-old Mareena Robinson Snowden is the first black woman to earn a PhD in nuclear engineering from MIT. She is now part of the 2% of engineers and scientists in the US who are black females. An even smaller percentage are black females who hold terminal degrees. I share this because I know that being part of such a small sector of STEM professionals is overwhelming and can feel pretty lonely. I think of organizations such as the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), which helped me get through Biomedical Engineering in college. What else can we do to encourage minority females to pursue STEM careers? And how do we retain these professionals in this area?

The Switch

I find it odd that the same nurturing qualities that draw people to me are the ones that I’m told to suppress in the professional world. In a sense I get it. Work is work and home is home. Emotions equal weakness and vulnerability and should be reserved for personal situations and matters. And when it comes to being a black woman, heaven help you if you ever get “perturbed” at work…
I feel pressure to flip a switch when I walk into work. No more motherly tendencies. No more sassiness. And definitely NO TEARS. So what happens when my intern is so upset about her roommate situation that she’s crying? What to do when my coworker disrespects me in front of our colleagues? How do I handle someone making disparaging comments about my faith or my race?
All of these things have happened within the past couple weeks and each time I ended up breaking the rules. And I honestly don’t care. I took my intern out to lunch and we talked about what was troubling her. I explained to my colleagues and my boss that I can forgive disrespect but will always address it head on. And I asked why it’s necessary to mock one person in order to prove an unrelated point.
There is peace in being real and representing the true Teena to those around me. While snapping at someone at work is not appropriate, neither is ignoring real life problems that pop up on the job. I can be nice while demanding respect. I can be helpful while drawing clear boundaries. I can be myself. So back off social norms. I’m doing my best!
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
Maya Angelou