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MIT student blogger Maggie L. '12

Lea-der! Lea-der! Bat-man! by Maggie L. '12

...I mean, Lea-der!

Ann Curry is my idol. This NBC reporter is somehow able to balance an aura of professionalism, grace, and personality whether she’s reporting on the economy or having fun on “The Today Show.” She’s actually one of the reasons I have an interest in journalism today. What’s incredible to me is the fact that the granddaughter of a Japanese rice farmer can fit so well within a career that is still considered to be male-dominated.

According to The Secrets of Powerful Women, women represent only 17% of the seats in Congress, lead only 15 Fortune 500 companies, and hold a mere 3 percent of top positions in mainstream media. In a Brown University study of 1,000 men and 1,000 women, this book said women were twice as likely to say they were not qualified to run for office. When women do run, they win in same percentages that men do.

It sounds silly, but this is just one of those hidden truths. When I first heard about the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program, I didn’t want to apply because I honestly did not think I could be both an engineer and a leader. Isn’t being just one of those hard enough? I didn’t give myself a reason to step up, but thankfully someone else did. I got an email from the program saying a member of my department had recommended I join the GEL program, and that was all I needed to apply. Just a little jolt of confidence can really go a long way!

Before you read any further, I want to emphasize that the point of this isn’t to suggest that men are poorer leaders than women. My point is that, despite being the land of opportunity, the US is ranked 71st internationally in women’s political representation. Even though newsrooms are full of women, all those women are less likely to be in top editorial positions. Before this summer, I probably wouldn’t have paid too much attention to these statistics.

This June, I attended the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders in College Park, Maryland, and met women similar to Mrs. Curry who had the drive and courage to enter certain careers in a time when women just didn’t do that. I decided to attend this conference because I wanted to step out of the MIT bubble and interact with other aspiring leaders from across the nation.

My biggest lessons from this event simply came from talking to conference speakers and fellow attendees. On the second night, I met with Marie Tillman, whose husband Pat Tillman died in Afghanistan after leaving the NFL to join the Army. Marie was honored by the conference committee as a Woman of Distinction for her advocacy for military and veteran families through the Pat Tillman Foundation, which she founded in 2004. The fact that this powerful woman was willing to talk one-on-one with the conference-goers showed me that no one is too “high and mighty” to help a fellow woman.

Talking to my fellow conference-goers was also an eye-opening experience. When I told one woman that I was a chemical engineer, she asked if I was the only woman in my classes. What a strange question, I thought. Of course not. This happened three more times that day.

I realized that some people still don’t consider engineering as a “woman’s subject,” and I was shocked. If there’s one thing I learned from this weekend, it’s that we need to get the message out to girls that they can aspire to a future in science and engineering.

I brought up this point to the conference’s keynote speaker, Laurie Westley, who is the national director of government relations and advocacy for Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA). I talked to her about how I’m interested in science and engineering, and she referred me to the Eastern Massachusetts Council of the GSUSA in Boston, which sponsors a variety programs for young girl scouts. This leads to one of those lessons you just learn with practice: networking works.

Check back next week for part two of this blog entry, in which I’ll share with you my story about bumping up against the glass ceiling.

*The title of this entry is a quote from one of the longest-running prime-time United States television series. Do you know what show that is?

11 responses to “Lea-der! Lea-der! Bat-man!”

  1. mag says:

    Thanks for your insight, C! Good clarification. Other students from “tech” schools that I met at the conference remarked how the ratio seems to vary widely from school to school, so you’re right about that question being an honest one.

  2. C says:

    Interesting post. I just wanted to say that, being a (female) engineering student myself, I do get that question a lot (“Are you the only woman in your class?”). To be fair, that’s an honest question. In my school, it’s very common to have at most 15/120+ students in an engineering class being female. And that’s considered to be a high ratio here.

    I’ve found that it’s not so much that engineering is considered to be a less ‘feminine subject’, but rather that there continue to be fewer women in engineering compared to men. That is, the difference is more in the interests the majority of girls have (thereby affecting the number of girls who go into engineering in college compared to any other major) and less in the idea of engineering being perceived as male-oriented.

    But I agree that engineering seems to still be male-dominated. And perhaps pressures imposed by older generations may be affecting what girls in younger generations are interested in.

    Also, first smile

  3. Kudos and cheers! I find approaching people and talking to them to be rather taxing, but I guess it’s a necessary thing to do… in academia or industry…

  4. Anonymous says:

    Its amazing to the hear about the different opportunities one has @ MIT – looks like there is something for different personalities and interests.

    I think it is great idea to step out of the MIT bubble go out of the campus and experience the respect and pleasure of being a MIT’ian. It must be great self confidence booster for folks that need it.

  5. mag says:

    Winner! ^^^ I was wondering when someone would answer that last question!

  6. Amazing Post!!
    **go girl power!**

  7. prudhvi says:

    i’m from india and i want to know eligibilty to get inti MIT PLEASE CAN YOU GUIDE ME PLEASE

  8. prudhvi says:

    HOW I CAN GET INTO MIT PLESE CAN YOU TELL ME