How to navigate the real driver behind the STEM gap

Leveraging soft skills is just as important as highlighting technical ones: For college students, second career individuals and professionals, the glass ceiling is a statistical reality across ethnic lines. I like to refer to this as the time when your soft skills and network are essential. From the day you step foot on a college campus, boardroom, corporation, or any setting, the end goal has to be at the forefront of your mind and your professional development and network are what keeps you in the game and pushes you ahead.

As part of your network, join professional and nonprofit organizations: Joining organizations in my youth is something I carried into my undergrad experience. It gave me an opportunity to travel, network, and increase my exposure, ultimately leading to my  leadership role in the Black Data Processors Association (BDPA) and my membership to the National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE) who both welcome persons from all ethnic and academic backgrounds and are a great place to start building a network.

Help others find your level of success: Leveraging your skills to make a challenge an opportunity is necessary, but equally important is showing others the same. Individuals that have excelled academically and professionally must be at the beginning of being the change for literacy and access to the school girl, professional and re-career individual.

Know what resources are there to help: NSBE is working both nationally and locally to increase access and exposure through an 11-city effort that provides STEM exposure on a first-come, first-serve basis via a three-week Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (S.E.E.K.). Nonprofits organizations like BlackGirlsCode and Latinas in STEM focus on closing the gender gap in tech. Also, there are scholarship, internship and fellowship programs that are geared towards minorities in STEM like the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) and fellowships through the National GEM Consortium and National Science Foundation (NSF). 

Listen to Chineta Davis, retired senior vice president for Northrop Grumman’s Electronic Systems: Davis shares these 10 tips to help women advance:

1. Take challenging stretch assignments, whether lateral or promotional.
2. Learn how to handle pop-ups (crises) that come your way.
3. Find diverse mentors and sponsors. Get a sponsor who will wear your T-shirt (because that’s how people move in corporate America) and understand the unwritten rules.
4. Make other people part of your journey and bring people with you who are assets.
5. Extend your network; that’s why it’s important to go to social events.
6. Be comfortable with saying “I don’t know.”
7. Learn to give your people all the credit.
8. Treat people who clean the boardroom exactly the same as those who sit in it with courtesy and respect.
9. Your career belongs to you.
10. Never compromise your integrity.

Davis’ advice echoes the sentiment of the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” And, I say, “It takes cross-cultural collaboration of resources and a commitment to prepare and propel girls and women in this world.”

The author also suggests these as good resource: Mentoring and Diversity: Tips for Students and Professionals for Developing and Maintaining a Diverse Scientific Community (Mentoring in Academia and Industry) and Women in Science: Call for personal experience essays “Surviving the Sexodus: Practical advice from women in science” Edited book Rutgers University Press, 2016 (tentative)

Amanda J. Henry M.S., is a STEM/STEAM professional and a community servant. She volunteers through several organizations: As a Life Member of TSU National Alumni Association, V.P. of Member Services of BDPA-Houston and NSBE-member.

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