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Expert Interview Series: Rachel Murray of She Geeks Out on Increasing Diversity in STEAM Careers Apr 20 , 2017

STEAM-related careers

Rachel Murray is co-founder of She Geeks Out, a Certified B Corp whose mission is to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace through events and education.

We recently asked Rachel for her insight on the climate for women in tech jobs as well as her advice for women interested in STEAM-related careers. Here's what she shared:

Can you tell us about your background in IT and web development? What have been some of the biggest workplace challenges you faced? What are the most important lessons you've learned in your career so far?

My career in the web industry began during the first dot-com boom of the late ‘90s/early 2000s. I was planning to be an archivist and worked at a university archives in New York while working on my Masters degree. I got excited about creating a website for the archives as we were a Big East basketball school and there was a lot of great history to share. I bought a super thick book on HTML and taught myself how to build a website. I scanned images, wrote content, made arguably the ugliest background ever seen on the internet and was hooked. 

I left archives behind and got my first job working for a startup in New York as Assistant Webmaster and never looked back. I’ve been involved in front end web development and management in some form or another, having worked for every type of organization - a startup, large companies, the World Health Organization, a nonprofit and a university. In working in so many environments, there’s one constant and that’s having a strong team and support from management. It is absolutely critical to be surrounded by good humans who care about the work and the team. I’ve found that without them, I don’t thrive. And I’d say that’s true for most people. No one wants to go to a place where they spend so much of their time and energy, only to be ignored, not taken seriously or undervalued.

 How has the role of women in tech jobs evolved since you started your career? What have been the most notable shifts you've observed?

I left the day-to-day workforce in 2013, but in 2000 I worked for an incredible startup with a lot of women who were in senior leadership positions. I’ve had a few managers who were women and each of them were absolute and total bad asses. But as I started to progress in my career, I was faced with two challenges: It was difficult to get a new job at a more senior level, and I found it hard to make more money in some cases despite the level of responsibility I was carrying. I wish I could say that times have changed in that regard, but the data shows otherwise. 

I’d say the most notable shifts are happening in conversation and the media. There’s significantly greater awareness on issues of gender and the workplace and that’s evidenced by the amount of articles written about the topic. We have a bi-weekly newsletter we send out that rounds up news of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and I’m always amazed at how much is written up daily on the subject.

Tell us about the mission of She Geeks Out. Why did you found your company?

Our mission is to create an inclusive culture that values and upholds diversity, particularly gender diversity. We started She Geeks Out because we wanted to create a community for women in STEAM to connect, network and learn in a safe space. 

Why do you believe it was necessary to devote an organization specifically to "providing a safe space for women in STEAM to connect and learn"? What are some of the challenges facing women in STEAM jobs?

We wrote about that very subject right here! Until there’s greater gender parity in the workplace, particularly in tech, there’s a need to be able to have a space where we don’t get hit on, talked over or mansplained to; where we can learn from each other, be inspired and carry that energy with us outside the room. As for challenges facing women in STEAM jobs, there are many. From being perceived as "not technical" to concerns over appearance or of any sort of display of emotion being instantly considered hysterical, these are just some examples.

What should women today be doing to better prepare themselves for careers in STEAM-related fields?

I’d turn the question around and ask what can we as a society do to better support women in STEAM-related careers. Women are not getting CS degrees as much as they used to. Why is this? Women aren’t getting promoted as quickly as their male counterparts. Why is this? Women aren’t getting paid as much as men. Why is this? Part of this is because women are less likely to advocate for themselves, but I would also ask why is this? Girls are taught from a young age to behave and be perfect, whereas boys are encouraged to be rambunctious. We all have a responsibility to take a look at our own biases, men and women both, to step back and see how they could be influencing our decisions. 

What is the value of women in STEAM fields to network with other women?

Given that there are fewer women in STEAM, particularly in tech, it’s important to see that there are women to connect with, that we’re not isolated even though we may feel that way at our place of work. 

What advice would you offer to women interested in pursuing a STEAM career? What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

I would say be wary of impostor syndrome. It’s so easy, especially when you hold yourself to a high standard (which many women do), to doubt yourself or your abilities. If you feel you deserve something, ask for it, and back it up with good reasons. If you feel you’ve been wronged, tell people, and back it up with facts as best you can. 

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Posted On April 20, 2017, 01:04 PM

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