The Only Woman in the Room

I’ve been badly outnumbered by the males in my profession for so long that sometimes I honestly don’t notice anymore when I’m the only woman in the room.  Yesterday was once such occasion.  I was running a combination teleconference/in-person meeting, and one of our dial-in folks got frustrated at one point and asked if we could please state who was talking first.  He was having trouble following along and guessing who was talking based on whose voices he knew.  So I replied, “Yes, good point, we should all be sure to say our names before speaking.”  To which he answered, “Well, yeah, I know who you are, you’re hard to mistake.”

That was the point when it finally hit me that out of 20-ish people, I was the lone woman.  It’s not often that bad a ratio for me, normally more like 5-to-1, but at that meeting I just happened to be the only woman.  It’s a strange feeling, to have it pointed out.  It was definitely an awkward moment and there was some awkward laughter all around.  I also realized that not only was I the only woman, I was probably a good ten years younger than the average age in the room, if not more.   Even as more women are entering STEM fields, there are usually even fewer senior women.

This reminded me again of why I’m so passionate about bringing more women into the STEM fold.  Variety isn’t just the spice of life – in the case of the workplace, diversity is the spice of innovation and success.  We need people who think differently, who come from all sorts of backgrounds, and who don’t all look, sound, speak, and act the same.

As today is International Women’s Day, it’s nice to think that the times I’m the only woman in the room are getting to be so much more infrequent, and that women won’t always be outnumbered in STEM fields if we keep working on outreach.  Also, speaking of International Women’s Day, Google did an especially nice doodle for it today – check it out before it’s gone!

Do you work in a field that’s heavily skewed one way or the other, gender-wise?  Does it ever make you uncomfortable?  What are some ways you could help encourage more women to enter male-dominated fields?

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