Mind The (STEM) Gap

As we lead up to the Tech Superwomen Summit, we are featuring some of the amazing speakers and advisors. First up, Angel Investor, Founder and Professor — Alicia Castillo Holley

Read this poignant and provocative look at her own journey and how that has informed her unique take on the cultural inequities in tech and the resilience required to overcome them. 

Happy reading and join us in Jan. 2015!

Alicia Castillo Holley on her STEM journey and resilience.

The Ungapping Way

There is indeed something fun about gaps. For those of us multigapped, it is confusing to figure out which gap is gapping more. Do I choose the gender gap, or the nationality gap? Or the age gap?

Multigapping or singlegapping, gaps are part of life, or part of history, however we chose to write the story. It probably started ungapped by ignorance. Because I did not know about any gender gap, I expected no gap, and sure indeed no gap I had, at least at the start of my career. Used to working and studying with men, I thought the gender gap was a joke.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, gender differences were physical and more related to the position of a couple of bumps than anything professional, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, or cultural. Socially we segregate towards our gender in places as dissimilar as Saudi Arabia, Chile, Thailand, and Denmark. Yet we are more similar than we are different (Could we for once focus on how similar we are?).

Here in the US, the gap widens from bottom to top, or so the data shows. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Women make up 49% of the US workforce, and the pay gap starts right on year 1, at least for those who just finished college (As per the American Association of University Women http://www.aauw.org/research/graduating-to-a-pay-gap/) and grows over career advancement but perhaps not quite to the top. The data repeats itself in many developed countries.

That gap could start early, when we teach girls to be considerate and boys to be competitive. Girls to learn to trust less their instincts and be compassionate, and boys learn to rely on their instincts and listen less. That somehow happens across the globe. What does not happen across countries is teachers telling girls that they don’t do well at math and telling boys that they are slow at reading. That seems to happen more often in… developed countries. Ouch! Can we track the gap roots through gap routes?

Girls’ confidence deteriorates with time, and a full blossoming young woman could easily be accused of overcompensating. Boy’s compassion follows the same route as girls’ confidence, and to compete, they undercompensate. The gap gets bigger. Women are less direct, men are shallow. A recipe for gaps between words and numbers, and arts and stem. The gap moves in… leaning on underestimated women. Not insecure, not incapable, but individuals adapting to the environment. Then we tell them there is a gap. And we focus on the gap, and gapped they get. The gap also moves in … leaning on overestimated men. Not arrogant, not narcissists, but individuals adapting to the environment. Then we tell them there is a gap. And we focus on the gap, and gapped they get. But not all women or men are gapped.

There are the ungappers, both men and women who chose to treat each other with the competitiveness and compassion that fills up that gap. We know who they are, and, if we are gapped, we tend to question how come they are not gapped. If we are not gapped, we embraced them openly and publicly, to the dismay of the gapped population.

Little details build bridges from gapped to ungapped. Take last names for example.

On my recent class, some of the young woman introduced themselves only by their first names. When I asked the group why, it were the men whom volunteered that it was likely that they would change their name at some point. These subtleties can have a big impact. Decades ago, I had an executive position at a large international corporation and requested to be listed by my last name in all of our meetings’ memos. I was ungapped and did not want to be listed on our memos as the only ‘Alicia’ amongst my 46 co-workers all listed by their last names. Ungapped I was also when I requested a competitive package and I showed I could provide results. Spoiled? no. Decisive, yes. I did not demand a good package, I requested it. I also knew that a higher pay would command other, more challenging and exciting responsibilities. Excellence and value hold hands usually. As in any relationship, sometimes excellence drives value, sometimes value drives excellence, and sometimes they are at odds. Over time however, they are pretty balanced.

The gap did come however. Negotiations for a package for relocation failed into the gap. I left that gap and moved overseas. Being gapped was a choice I did not want to take. And along the way, many gaps have come and gone. Out of these gaps, both humbleness and resilience grew. I don’t need to be overconfident, underestimated, overcompensated or underpaid… I need to be ungapped, I need to treat others ungappingly.

The secret is in a single question: what would I do if I was not gapped? Because I might not control my circumstances but my attitude is one hundred percent under my control.

Similarly, it is not the data that tells the story, but my interpretation of the data, and interpretation that is one hundred percent under my control.

Furthermore, the data might show the gap, but does not tell the story of those ungapped, those who build the ungapping way, me, ungapped, included.

-Alicia (@aliciacastillo)

Thanks for reading, join the conversation on Twitter using #TSWS15 and let us know your thoughts. What experiences have you had navigating the “gaps?”



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