by Emily Jasper, published in Emily Jasper's blog on Forbes.com's Work n Progress 03/02/11
Mar. 2 2011
About a month ago I was asked to be a speaker for a virtual conference. The Future We Create: The Future of Women in Chemistry and Science, sponsored by Dow Chemical, is an event bringing 60 women together to share insight and advice as part of the International Year for Chemistry.
Of course I was excited to participate, but then I thought about it: the last time I had done anything with chemistry was in class nearly 10 years ago. What was I going to say?
I realized then that I have the ability to share insight about how to nurture future leaders, give advice to young women starting out on their career and recount things that I wish I had been told, even if I had been too strong-willed to listen. A lot of advice transcends industry boundaries, and that’s when I got really excited about participating.
As I prepared for the event, I was noticing that either people online or even some of my male classmates kept commenting, “Why do women need another event? Maybe they’re just not interested in the sciences…”
Well, when you’re at Virginia Tech, a leader in engineering education, you pretty much can’t assume women aren’t interested in the sciences because they’re right there leading the way. Most of my good friends are women who come from engineering or IT–and even I’m from the social sciences plus psychology.
So if we’re already there, do we really need an event to encourage more women to get interested in this industry?
Yes, we do. I thought back to a story one of my friends told me. Every new semester meant finding a place to sit in your classroom. We’re creatures of habit, so if we can get that preferred seat early, we had a place the rest of the year, right?
Since she was in the engineering school, she said that every time she would pick a seat, the other women in class would inevitably sit next to her. At first she thought it was a “powers in numbers” thing, but later she realized it’s because women like to affiliate with people, especially people who share their own interests. It may have been subconscious, but these women were getting together because they knew they would have a social link.
That social link is exactly why I think we need to keep encouraging events for women, no matter what the industry. I hate to generalize, but I’ve noticed that men and women socialize, especially professionally, a little bit differently. Men seem to want to “make the rounds” at an event, whereas women are often finding a few quality contacts that come from extended conversation. If that’s the case, why not set up events that might facilitate the quality we’re looking for?
There is a risk that emphasis on women in business, especially as things continue to equal out, can create an us vs. them conflict. This isn’t about separating the packs however, but bringing like interests and needs together.
We have an opportunity to encourage interest and discussion, and we should be happy that it’s the case that organizations are still interested in facilitating these kinds of gatherings.
So don’t ask if women are even interested because we’re learning that as the world gets bigger, it’s just getting smaller. Words of wisdom for anyone can transcend industry, and instead of bucking against the idea, share your own advice. We’ll be there to listen.
Work In Progress is a growing community of bloggers who focus on, support and promote the magic 51%. That’s the tipping point for professional and entrepreneurial women, who make up 51% of the workforce and own 51% of small businesses. We are part women-to-women advice and solutions, and part cheerleading and collaboration. Our goal is your success.