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?