Saturday, April 20, 2019

Do I Prefer Speaking about Science over Women in Science?

Presenting at the Ivy Space Coalition, April 6, 2019

“Would you prefer speaking about science over women in science?”

The question was posed to me at the the Ivy Space Coalition conference two weeks ago immediately before giving a keynote talk on women in STEM. I knew the answer, but the question surprised me and I didn’t know how to articulate it. I had been invited to speak about women in STEM and I had written a passionate speech about my own experiences as well as the experiences of other underrecognized women in space. I was gearing myself up to give the talk and was determined to do an excellent job.

But yes, I would prefer speaking about science. I wish I didn’t have to speak about women in science as a separate category from all people in science. But that’s not the world we live in.

I used to believe the categorization set us apart and contributed to the problem. I used to get annoyed at the focus on minorities, believing that if we stop separating everyone out, minorities wouldn’t face as much discrimination. Yes, I used to be so naive.

As a teenager and undergraduate student, I did not see or recognize sexual discrimination in science or in the workplace. As a white person, I did not experience racism, so I didn’t understand the focus on race relations. It was only by maturing that I began to understand the focus on minorities wasn’t causing discrimination, it was recognizing and speaking about discrimination that already exist.

Pretending something doesn’t exist and refusing to put words to a problem doesn’t make the problem go away. As a woman in science, discrimination against women affects me whether I recognize it or not. And thanks to inappropriate and unfair behaviors of a few, it’s now impossible for me not to recognize it in my own experiences,

Over the past few years as I’ve grown in my career and become more independent, I’ve grown bolder in speaking out about sexual discrimination and lack of diversity in the space sector. I focus my efforts on supporting women (especially young women) and calling out the lack of representation when I see it. This has attracted attention, including negative attention by those who preferred the status quo. But I will not be silenced. I will only speak louder to counter the voices of negativity and oppression that still exist in our society.

This is why I was chosen to give the keynote address on women in STEM at the Ivy Space Coalition. This is why I happily accepted. This is why I poured my heart out into a speech which revealed personal details of my experiences and made me vulnerable in front of strangers.

But do I prefer to speak about women in STEM? No. I want to talk about space. I want to discuss my vision of moving humanity closer to the heavens and exploring the mysteries of our Universe. I want to explain my analyses of the space industry and speak about my expertise in planetary science, human spaceflight, and space policy.

But I am a woman and I will always be judged for being a woman. And so I will happily add my voice to the discussion about being a woman in STEM and lift up the voices of other women. I will continue to speak until our collective voices become so loud they echo among the cosmos forever and can no longer be ignored.