Microsoft program manager Vidya Srinivasan discusses the challenges faced in STEM fields and how these challenges shape our unique identities during Gender in STEM event. The event is hosted by ASUW Women’s Action Commission, aiming to empower women and other gender minorities through the celebration of intersectional identities.

In a 2016 study conducted at the UW, it was shown that male biology students repeatedly under evaluate female peers. To women in STEM, this was not news. This was, and still is, an everyday occurrence.   

On Tuesday, the ASUW Women’s Action Commission (WAC) hosted Gender in STEM, a three-hour event in the HUB Lyceum that explored the experiences of women and other minorities through guest speakers and a student panel. 

At multiple times in the afternoon, the crowd was challenged to think of how patriarchy is something that is constant throughout all of society, and each audience member was encouraged to reflect on personal interactions with patriarchy during their time in STEM.

Another focus of the evening was how micro and macro aggressions can come from people other than white men. Attendees were encouraged to evaluate their own privilege and how it allows them to navigate through STEM more easily than others, which is just as important when trying to defy gender and other barriers facing marginalized communities. 

The 2016 study surveyed approximately 1,700 students that were enrolled in undergraduate biology courses and found that, “for an outspoken female student [evaluated] by males at the same level as a male student, her performance would need to be more than three-quarters of a GPA point higher than the males.”

Statistics like these make events that focus on intersectionality and marginalization all the more important, as they can directly impact a student’s career and success in STEM.

“The thing with micro aggression is you can’t be offended when you get called out,” student Max Salire said. “It’s understandable, it’s a totally natural reaction, but the issue in the workplace — especially in STEM — is the unwillingness to listen. It’s more of a ‘my needs first and I’ll get to that stuff later’ thing.”

Salire, a senior studying physiology, has dealt with a number of these situations at the UW and shared their frustrations with the culture and stigma that still exist, no matter how progressive one many think they are or their school is.

Other guest speakers echoed this message, and joining Salire were Dr. Vanessa Galaviz and Vidya Srinivasan.

Galaviz is a Chicana scientist who works in the School of Public Health at the UW. Her research focuses on environmental injustices facing low-income and minority communities. Galaviz’s experience in exposure assessment, genetic and molecular stability to environmental pollutants, community-based participatory research, and more allows her to reach a community that is often looked past when it comes to environmental issues. 

Whether it’s in the environment or in tech, a person can often create barriers for themselves, and those barriers can be perpetuated by others. 

To combat this, Srinivasan shared a 10-point checklist that helped her navigate the tech field as a brown woman. Her experience as a technical program manager at Microsoft has been both challenging and rewarding, and the checklist is a reminder of how others like Srinivasan can overcome barriers placed before them.

The checklist has reminders that include: be yourself, build your tribe, you are your own leader, don’t stop dreaming, and more. The importance of this list, Srinivasan shares, is to empower women who often feel intimidated or fall victim to imposter syndrome.

The event ended with a student panel that answered various questions on topics the previous speakers brought to light. Throughout the Q&A period, the five students shared the same message as the guest speakers: Being successful in a field heavily saturated with white men is about self-care, self-confidence, and a strong support system that can include friends, family, and mentors. 

“The best way I overcome these challenges is by finding people who believed in and supported me,” said Valerie Najera, a senior studying human centered design and engineering. “At the end of the day, when it was one of those difficult challenging days where you just go home and cry, you need to call those people and you need to hear them tell you, ‘It’s okay, you are okay, and you will succeed.’”


Reach reporter Alexis Mansanarez at Twitter: @almansanarez

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