Opinion: Finding a Sense of Belonging as a Woman in STEM
Published Sunday, March 7, 2021 9:35AM EST
Gina Cody is the first women to be awarded a PhD in building engineering at Concordia University, and serves as an inspiration to any woman looking to enter the typically male field.
MONTREAL -- As a woman pursuing a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) related field, you are often made to believe you do not belong. This feeling is remarkably common amongst women all around the world.
Engineering was never my first choice.
To me, an engineer was a man, tools were better wielded by men, the only builders I met were men, and all I knew was that I was not one, so I never thought to pursue it as a career.
I chose to study commerce in CEGEP, but I did not have a passion for it.
In my last year, I met the student recruitment officer for the Gina Cody School, and to my surprise, she said that I could make the switch to engineering.
She was extremely encouraging and gave me much of the confidence I needed to submit my application.
However, both male and female acquaintances continuously questioned my choice and always commented that engineering was a man’s job.
So much so that I began to believe it myself.
Although I was never directly told I cannot be an engineer, it was still discouraging, but I did not let my engineering journey stop there.
From the beginning of my degree, I suffered from imposter syndrome: an intense feeling of not belonging.
The transition from commerce to engineering was more stressful than I had anticipated.
I lacked the science background of most of my peers and every class I went to was made up of at most 10 per cent women which was truly disheartening.
My perspective completely changed soon into my first semester.
Concordia renamed the faculty to the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science.
Suddenly, I had a strong woman role model.
Not only was I introduced to a highly successful female engineer, but her name represented all the engineering students at Concordia.
It made me see that I had just as much of a right to be in this field as any other person. Even seeing male students proudly wearing the Gina Cody name on their shirts around school was so impactful.
With my newfound confidence, I wanted to further encourage change, so I joined the Women in Engineering society.
With the help of an amazing team, I truly found my place in this field.
I soon came to realize that gender-related barriers had hindered my decisions, and, throughout my life, I was being subconsciously pushed away from this career path.
Young women are less encouraged to explore STEM fields because of harmful misconceptions.
Whether done consciously or unconsciously, they impede on the confidence of women and deter them from STEM altogether.
Making things look pretty is not why women are here; we are just as intelligent and just as capable of performing the technical work.
We are especially not here to fill quotas and we will not earn jobs more easily than others because of our gender.
Our goal has always been, and will always be, to work and work hard.
We need to encourage young women to pursue STEM-related fields and work together to break down the invisible barriers that block their participation.
For this message to be effective, it is important that the women in STEM be visible to us.
We need to see you so we can believe that we belong here.
For all the men in our field, it is critical for you to be a part of this change as well.
Women only make up a small portion of our field and we cannot do it alone, nor should we have to.
I am enormously proud to be a Concordia engineering student where students and faculty are committed to gender equality.
To all the young women with aspirations of pursuing STEM related fields, trust me when I say that you absolutely belong.
Alexandra McMullin is in her third year of the Civil Engineering Bachelor's program at Concordia University's Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science. She is also on the executive team of the Women in Engineering student association.