“I was taught that the way of progress is neither swift nor easy.” – Marie Currie in Pierre Currie (1936), 167
Like everyone else, I take on issues that are near and dear to my heart. I’m a women who has experienced unfair practices at work because of my gender. I don’t think there’s a woman alive that hasn’t felt the sting of discrimination. We’ve been made to feel less than, or out of place and uncomfortable in certain situations. If there is a woman that has been unscathed by aspects of discrimination, I’d like to talk to her and find out what her secret is. We all feel it. We either let it bounce off or take it to heart and let it spur a call to action within ourselves. I have done both. It’s important to pick our battles. I can’t fight every cause out there, although I feel very strongly about many of them. I can only speak about my own experiences and of those whom I’ve witnessed enduring frustrating accepted practices while trying to break down barriers. Some of us are killing it, some of us are coasting, and some of us are barely making it. The fact that women still face discrimination in the work force is common knowledge. Women facing discrimination in STEM fields is not as commonly discussed. These are areas that have been, and still are, dominated my men. These are very competitive fields that require a significant commitment to years of education, time, and research. My daughter is a women of science, educated in medicinal chemistry; a second year PhD candidate in the very competitive field of pharmacology. She’s more than half way up that mountain. This is her Everest. She’s planned each moment down to every last detail.
For clarification purposes, pharmacology is not the same as pharmacy. Pharmacy briefly defined is: a profession in which a licensed Pharmacist dispenses, monitors, administers, and counsels about prescription drugs and overall well-being.
Pharmacology briefly defined is: the science of drugs; including their origin, composition, pharmacokinetics, therapeutic use, and toxicology.
My daughter first experienced discrimination when she was in high school. As a top honours student, she took education very seriously. She knew the goals she had in mind and focused like a lion bearing down on it’s prey. Suddenly she was struggling. She was having a hard time in a relatively easy class. It was a male teacher. She felt creeped out by him. This teacher was very flirty and had leering eyes. My daughter’s friend had no issue being that “teacher’s pet.” My daughter had a huge issue. This teacher had the perfect set up for having complete power and control over whomever he wanted. There were no tests. There were no exams. There were no definitive ways to demonstrate knowledge learned. My daughter had to rely on a man she felt uncomfortable around, in a course that she needed, with a marking scheme over which she had no control. When she finally told me, I approached the school like a mother bear protecting her cub. The administration did a great job at two things; keeping it quiet and doing as little as possible to help my daughter. Long story short, the teacher was very calculating and raised her marks just enough to give her a 94.4% final average. Great mark! Not good enough for the biggest scholarship prizes. She still received decent scholarships, enough that she had very little to no debt throughout her undergrad years. An interesting point about this is; the teacher’s pet who won the huge scholarships, dropped out of sciences in university. My daughter pressed on with nothing but her end goal in mind.
While she was an undergrad she did a biophysical chemistry internship at an Ivy league school. This is where she found herself in a position of having to endure discrimination yet again in order to get ahead. All the men at this world class research facility were allowed to wear shorts; not women. Men could wear sandals; not women. Women couldn’t show any leg or ankle in the lab but for men it was tolerated. The last issue for my daughter was dealing with her own feelings about how women feel they need to portray themselves to get ahead or to be taken seriously. When she applied for grad school she had a series of Skype interviews that determined, in part, whether or not she would be accepted into this very prestigious, very competitive program. When I saw her right before her interview, I noticed how dressed down she was, and how she wore no make up. I questioned her about this. Her reply was, “I don’t want to look too pretty.” A little part of me died inside hearing this. Not just because she felt that way, but because society still puts such huge pressure on women to look one way or another for certain roles. One thing is for sure; forging ahead facing unique challenges in life is certain to test the will and strength of any woman. I’m happy to say that my daughter, who sacrificed so much to be where she is today, is settled and knows where she is going. The rigid demands of applying for funding, doing research, getting published, and going to classes are offset by intermittent visits home and letting loose with friends; sporting the confidence of an educated, worldly young woman.
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I can not accept.” ~ Angela Davis
Allow Yourself To Have Fun
My daughter has subscribed to the high performance pressure that has been put on the women in our family for a long time. Her accomplishments are great and I’m obviously fiercely proud. What makes me happier lately is knowing that she has learned to let her hair down and have fun. This is very important for somebody who has tunnel vision with an unyielding dedication to her education. She’s learning that it’s not just about reaching the summit. It’s the climb.