On August 26, 1920 the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote. Yet, voter suppression is still an issue as discussed in Being Latino article voter suppression versus voter protection. In the news we still hear men and religious institutions obsessed with women’s reproductive rights. I joke that politicians should stay out of my pants, but it’s no joking matter. We are still having discussions about what constitutes an assault, prosecuting assaults in the military is a real issue, and a woman entering the political arena may receive more scrutiny and personal attacks. Yet, we can point to women CEO’s, women astronauts in outer space, and serious discussions about Hillary Clinton leading this country. Despite political views, no reasonable person can deny Hillary’s educational achievements and work ethics. She could be a real contender, if she chooses to run. She has the option-progress.
I think about my own career in engineering which has statistically low numbers for both Latinos and women. I remember walking down a hallway in a great technical company after landing my dream internship. An older, white male stopped me to ask why I had left the mop in the hallway. I shook it off; consoling myself with the thought the old man would retire or die soon. I worked hard to earn a spot in a prestigious engineering program. I was interviewed by man who asked point blank if I planned to have children and leave the workforce. Despite the fact it was inappropriate, I simply said “I’ve never not worked”. The double negative left him confounded and I ended the conversation. I interviewed with another manager who heard of his remarks and said “I’ll hire you just because you’re a woman. I get a bonus.” I decided not to work for either of them.
I found a group which pushed me to be my best on day one. I was chosen to lead and train a technical group in Russia. At the time it was considered dangerous due to the kidnappings. One of my teammates expressed concerns, “maybe she shouldn’t go, she’s a girl”. I decided to go immediately after hearing his words because I wasn’t going to let gender be a factor. On my first trip there was a bombing at a tourist hotel. I was assured it was related to the mafia, not against tourist. On my second trip to Moscow there was a bombing in a subway. I never regretted my decision. My Russian colleagues treated me well and, more importantly, challenged me technically. They never questioned my decisions based on anything but technical rationale. This made me strive to be a better engineer. Years later, I realized all the ‘ignorants’ didn’t retire or die and new one were bred, but they’re not in the majority. Recently, I was leading a meeting to solicit feedback on a new tool I was developing. One Asian engineer kept trying to give me the solution and I said “let’s define the problem; I’ll work on the solution”. He kept on and finally another male Asian engineer spoke up “She knows her job; you don’t have to tell her. She knows.” I smiled; a little progress.
I do see great progress but I know we’re not done yet. So on August 26th, I look to the past so I can appreciate the present and remember to fight for a better future. Let us all strive for a better future for all; regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality or national origin.