I feel there is a lot of support for women at work. I haven't experienced any direct discrimination against women. Although i'm not where i want to be in my career, i feel a good part of it was determined by me.
I really wanted to have a very successful career when i was in school. I had dreams. But things and priorities change. I moved from China to the U.S. after college. I kind of forgot about my dream. I got married. Got busy with the babies. They are so cute. Although i continued to work, although i didn't spend as much time with my kids as i wanted to, I didn't spend as much effort and focus as needed to grow my career. I was happy with my job and daily life.
I wish i had remembered my career dream earlier and really focused on it.
So i think we can do it if we really want it, focus on it, work it. Look for mentors and sponsors to help you get there. Not just once in a while, but consistent and don't get discouraged.
Some level of sacrifice is needed. it is not enough to be smart. You have to work smart and work hard. Go above and beyond. You have to have a will to achieve it. Balance what you have and what you want in your life.
I don't think it is holding women back so much as the structures in the workplace are often setup to support men, so you may run into challenges if your natural tendencies don't align with workplace expectations. In my experience, these are the typical challenges I see women struggle with, including myself. That's not to say these cannot be overcome, but being conscious of them helps address them.
1) Collaborative - while being a collaborative team member is seen as a positive in many junior roles, as you get more seasoned in your field, being collaborative and not directly assertive can be seen as not a natural "leader." This limits promotion or stretch opportunities for women. Each of us needs to find our own assertive style to address this. That does not mean mimic men's behavior but find your own way to voice your opinion and be perceived as assertive.
2) Emotional - any emotional reaction to feedback or workplace situations, especially crying and even getting angry, is perceived by others in the workplace as a weakness. If this happens to you once, it takes a while to change your colleague's perception of you as emotional. I personally think it is unfair as men who express their frustrations by getting angry are not perceived as emotional.
3) Networking - myself and many women I've worked with tend to build deep and narrow networks. In many lines of work, having a broad network opens doors to new opportunities and promotions. Building and maintaining a broad network and talking about your achievements to a wider audience (don't be modest if that is your tendency) is a skill that helps with this one.
4) Organization - women in general are seen as good at organizing things so they are asked to organize social hours/events in the workplace. These opportunities are not valued when it comes to your performance discussion. I encourage my managers to spread this responsibility across the team fairly.
Be strong and know your worth. Be an ally and willing to forgive when people make mistakes. When I started my job I was one of five girls on a 100 person sales floor. It has been my experience that most people are decent and want a positive work environment. Let your actions/skill/results speak for you and you will do just fine.
I would say there is not one thing that holds us back, it's within ourselves to succeed.
An interesting data point that always resonates with me is that "research shows that in order to apply for a job women feel they need to meet 100% of the criteria while men usually apply after meeting about 60%."
Don't let fear stop you from trying or trying again. I have been turned down for jobs, but I always follow up to ask what I can do differently to be ready for the next opportunity . It's an easy way to get free advice (lol) and you never get what you don't try to achieve!
This is true also with asking questions. I often stop people when they start a question with 'this may be a stupid question.' There are no stupid questions and then I thank them for being the brave one to ask because there may be others that need to see that initiative before they feel comfortable asking questions.
Thanks and best of luck!
There are great research reports on women's experiences in STEM, and sometimes it can feel discouraging because of these problems. For example, NCWIT has great information: https://www.ncwit.org/.
I would say, though, as a woman in STEM, it's important for us to show up and be here because we need a say in the future of our world, just like anyone else! I think I've had a good time because I have found colleagues and mentors who are in my "safety circle". They are like work friends who I can talk with, vent to, and get recommendations from. It's important to not only network, but build a few, important connections, particularly about work. You can do that by simply asking LOTS of questions and advice (like you're doing right now)!
There are also organizations that can help you build these relationships like: ChickTech, Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, etc.
Jennifer recommends the following next steps: