Kinda funny. I am prepping to join a discussion addressing the barriers faced by women and people of color in STEM fields, and I have run into a barrier.
Sunday, I will be sitting on my third panel of the year. This one will be “Opportunities: Leveling the Playing Field for Women and Minorities in Aerospace” at the 2018 Annual GlobalMindEd Conference, in Denver, Colorado. I will be part of a panel discussing strategies of how companies and organizations can “level” the opportunities in the aerospace industry to attract and retain women and people of color.
For my part I will be focusing more on ensuring we understand what leveling means and how it looks from the benches and sidelines. I’ve found too often organizations take a clinical view of what to do to attract and retain more employees with diverse backgrounds. They look to schools and the numbers graduating with the highly sought for degrees that also meet the diversity checkbox. I can’t blame them. It only makes sense to higher those who have the minimum qualifications. However, like most things involving people, there are many layers and nuances that also should be considered.
For Sunday’s panel, my challenge is a result of me being a good parent. I suddenly don’t have childcare. This past Wednesday, my sitter informed me she was recently injured and unfortunately will be unable to watch my daughter. I love my sitter, so I would rather she take care of herself at this time. She’s such an active young woman, so it’s not surprising she’d be injured at least once. I’m just thankful she will be fine.
After a slight panic, I apologetically asked some friends if any are available on such short notice, knowing most of my friends do not have children and likely have plans that would not be best suited to babysitting. So far, none are available.
So what I am I to do with this barrier that is not uncommon among the group I will be on panel to advocate for? As a single mother, working in my dream industry of aerospace, I work hard to ensure my young child is cared for so I can pursue my dream with the least amount of impact to my employer or outreach activities. It’s not just a matter of paying ‘someone’ to watch my child. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would love a few minutes alone with a child. Any parent knows security is the most important requirement, so that leaves much out of the equation. Family is also rarely an option for me. They are simply not available.
This puts me in a difficult spot. I’ve made a commitment to advocate for those like me, facing the challenges and barriers to the coveted dream. Before I can even explain what companies can do to even see the “level” of the field, I’m finding myself unable to easily “Lean In” and be part of the conversation.
However, I have decided to step out of my comfort zone, and attempt to push others out, as well. I will continue to search for a safe and fun alternative for my daughter Sunday afternoon, but I will prepare her for the possibility that we will be push boundaries and breaking norms by having her discreetly attend the panel with me. It’s not an ideal situation. For my daughter, it will be a prolonged hour that she will need to sit quietly and relatively still. She will have a book to read and I might just cave and give her my phone and headphones to listen to even though I’m not a fan of technology babysitters. For the employers and sponsors in the room, such a situation often conveys, “Here is a woman who doesn’t have her life in order. She may be too difficult to bring to the table if she can’t stow her kid with someone for an hour;” Instead of “Here is a woman who is dedicated. She has the ability to adapt on her feet without missing a step.”
Hopefully, I will be able to encourage them to look at what a level playing field looks like from not only from the view of their bottom line, but also the view from the benches, and the sidelines. I’m still hoping to encourage the employers to focus on growing an internal workforce, engaging the employees they have on even the mundane tasks as well as the high profiles ones, improve communication strategies and to view employees more holistically rather than through a clinical and sterile lens. For the women and people of color in the audience, I’m hoping to show that sometimes we need to take risks that make us uncomfortable. We need to push through not only when it’s hard, but even during the dull times and we need to continue to work to level the field even as we raise the bar for ourselves.
For myself, honestly, I’m hoping to find an alternative for my daughter for that time, and failing that, I’m hoping she lets me fully engage in the panel before the energetic kid in her explodes all over everything.