Letter To The Editor

Becoming the women that change the world

By Cara Riverso ’10 April 2, 2021

Women’s History Month is a time for everyone to reflect on the many women who have changed our world. At a school whose slogan is “Why not change the world?” I believe that Rensselaer women should reflect in an additional way. We should be thinking about how we will fit into the future and become the trailblazers the world will celebrate someday.

Over the past month, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a woman in STEM. Having gone to RPI with our infamous “ratio,” I always assumed I would be one of few women in my field; the real world of manufacturing has cemented that. I am routinely the only woman at the table.

I constantly feel like a “unicorn” in a world of horses; I want to change it from the inside. I hope that by sharing some insight, I can help more women make it to positions where they can be pioneers and drive change in technical fields. As for our male colleagues—well, the better they understand the inequities, the more they can help drive change.

  • I almost never receive resumes for women engineers at my company; I have to specifically ask for them. Of those that do apply, I find candidates that can definitely fit on and contribute to my team. Women tend to get graded on previous experiences while men are chosen for potential. Find ways to showcase real experience and hard skills on your resume; don’t make it generic.
  • Only half the people who reach out to me on LinkedIn about potential jobs are men. However, when women reach out, they tend to ask me questions about myself and my experiences. Men, on the other hand, tell me why they’re qualified for a job on my team. If you’re going to reach out, find a way to showcase yourself.
  • We shouldn’t have to explain ourselves, but I find myself constantly explaining to my peers why I make decisions I make or why I use a certain leadership style with some groups. When I explain things to them, they’re much more likely to understand and support me. Again, it shouldn’t be this way but no change comes easy.
  • I had to play hard ball to get my first promotion to a managerial role. When the previous manager was fired, I filled the gap in leadership without any title or compensation. When I said I wanted the role for real, I was told I needed to wait another six months so they could evaluate my skills and make sure I was the right candidate (after already working in the role for six months). Frustrated at that point, I said they either gave me the title now or I walked because I wasn’t waiting around anymore. They ended up giving me the promotion.
  • I have never had another female in a senior role within my direct chain of command. I have found plenty of male mentors to help me along the way, though they don’t really understand the politics of getting through the system as a woman. Take the help you can get, but don’t expect them to understand. Reach outside of your organization for women mentors from other companies if you don’t have anyone you can work with.

It’s not an easy world to get through, ladies. But, to become the women that change the world, we’ve got to be persistent. Don’t take no for an answer. Keep fighting inequity. Change the world.