Representation Matters

by Dr. Camila Ramirez

As a Latinx, queer woman, working in STEM has not come without an assortment of challenging experiences. This is why being part of an organization that supports minorities and fosters inclusivity is of particular importance to me. Thankfully, EXP does not disappoint! Both fostering a welcoming and professional environment for all and facilitating outreach experiences, EXP acts on its core values.

Last month, I was asked to lead a panel at the National Diversity in STEM (NDiSTEM) conference sponsored by the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native American in Science (SACNAS), the largest multidisciplinary and multicultural STEM event in the country with over 6k other participants. Funny enough, I thought it would be a waste of my time. I’d have rather been back at the office coding.

Panel Members Cristina Padilla, Dr. Luz Cumbre Garcia, Dr. Camila Ramirez, and Sonia Alcantar

My panel was made up of 5 professional women with different degrees, working in unrelated fields of science talking about Climbing the Professional Ladder of Success: Stories of Women in STEM. Heading into the session I thought “How on earth is my life story of interest to anyone?” I didn’t think anyone would come listen to us. Well… the ballroom was fully packed!

After the two-hour panel, where the questions did not seem to end, I sat in the conference lobby and had a moment to reflect. For the longest time, I have taken for granted how important it is to have a network of supporting colleagues and mentors– something that comes natural here at EXP with our coaching program and team-of-teams culture; mentors are easy to come by and colleagues become your friends.

Sitting on that panel made me aware (not to my liking) that even to this day, I still question my professional abilities. Imposter syndrome, go away! However, it also helped me realize that representation actually matters. Apparently, there are many young women working toward becoming professional scientists in need of reassurance and guidance from fellow women in STEM, someone that looks like them, that understands them. Someone like me.

All to say, I came out of the conference truly cherishing the possible impact my story could have on a young woman starting her own professional path– the realization that it is okay to take up space and speak up when we (as women) are also subject matter experts. Lastly, I am glad I was not coding back at the office but rather had a chance to spend a couple of days inspiring and being inspired by a diverse group of scientists and engineers on the tropical island of Puerto Rico!