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By Cirse Mendoza, Chicago Math and Science 

In the 1950’s Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three African-American women, turned Space Race around and reestablished the nation’s pride. How? They were the brains behind the most defining space operation: John Glenn’s launch into space. Hidden Figures is a movie that tells the story of these three brilliant women of color while also exposing the gender bias and racial prejudice that exists in STEM fields.

Even if people boast about the progress we’ve made as a nation, STEM fields still seem to be stuck in the 1950’s and 60’s. And the people in these fields aren’t the only ones, but it is ironic and detrimental that “the career market of the future” can’t escape the past.

In a study conducted by Tools for Change, Double Jeopardy: Gender Bias against Women of Color in Science, it was found that 100% of women of color in STEM fields experience some sort of gender bias. And this isn’t just a gender problem; it goes further into racial and ethnic prejudices. This study also reports that Black women (76.9%) were more probable than other women to provide more evidence of competence to prove themselves to colleagues (Latinas: 64.5%; Asian-Americans: 63.6%; White women: 62.7%). Another common influence is stereotypes that go along with genders and ethnicities. Latinas revealed that when they carried on confidently, they were viewed as irate or emotional or even crazy.

Hasiba Zandi, a senior at Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA) and a prospective Obstetrician and Gynecologist, weighed in on what these statistics mean to her as a young woman who aspires to work and succeed in the STEM fields.

Zandi has always seen her gender and ethnicity as extensions of her skill set when it comes to the career she wants to pursue. Female patients tend to be more comfortable with female doctors, and Hispanics tend to prefer Spanish speaking doctors. But she does admit that there are times when she feels like the entire population is against her because she knows not everyone is on board with the idea of women being involved in the medical field.

When Zandi was shown the study by Tools for Change, Zandi said that she was not surprised to hear women of color faced such obstacles. “There’s going to be some sort of bias wherever you go, but it does take more guts to be in the STEM field,” she states.

This may not seem like a huge deal to many people. But someone should never be used to the idea of gender bias and racial prejudice in the workplace. A person’s gender or ethnicity won’t stop them from completely revolutionizing the STEM fields as Johnson, Vaughn, and Jackson proved. So why do people in the STEM fields feel the need to put up gender and ethnic barriers?

Zandi states that the only way gender bias and racial prejudice can be closed is by “Actually letting women into STEM fields.” Yes, women can be interested in STEM, but if they are not being let in, then the glass and concrete ceiling can’t be broken.

Faith Rodriguez is a biology teacher at CMSA, and has taught Hasiba Zandi for three years. When I asked her why she became a teacher, she said “I wanted to give students opportunities I never had.” She has continuously helped and encouraged her students, specifically young women of color, to engage in internships for physical therapy and with the Health Professions Recruitment and Exposure Program (HPREP).

When asked about experiencing racial prejudice and gender bias she states, “I myself have never experienced that. But that might have to do with well, I don’t have an accent for one. I think if an individual has an accent people tend to shy away from that a little bit.” It is important to note that Faith Rodriguez is a fair-skinned Latina who also benefits from white privilege even if she is not 100% Caucasian. But, Rodriguez is conscious that even if she has never experienced racial prejudice or gender bias, it does exist. This kind of social awareness is what many people in the STEM field need in order to properly grow the career market and make it more inclusive.

Rodriguez became a high school teacher because she wanted to give minority students someone they could look to for inspiration. She does her best to overcome the barriers of gender bias and racial prejudices by pushing young women of color to pursue medicine or STEM related fields; she repeatedly tells them to not be afraid.

As the STEM fields continues to grow in popularity, so should their opportunities. People should not be left out of opportunities to become successful because others can’t seem to move away from the 1950 and 60s. STEM is supposed to be filled with intellectual human beings who move the world towards a better and more efficient tomorrow. But that can’t happen if half of its prospective workers are shut out due to things they can’t control. This problem doesn’t fall just on people in the STEM fields but on everyone who wants the best for the nation. We should all be speaking out about gender bias, sexism, prejudice, racism, and colorism not just in STEM fields, but in everyday situations.

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