Meet Game Changer Tricia Berry
Girlstart recently caught up with STEM advocate, Tricia Berry. We asked her a few questions about being a STEM professional in a male dominated field. Check out her interview below, and meet her (and other Game Changers) at the Game Changers Luncheon on October 23rd.
Name: Tricia Berry
Company: The University of Texas at Austin, Women in Engineering Program (Director); Texas Girls Collaborative Project (Director); 825 Basics, LLC (Executive Vice President)
Girlstart: Was there a game changer in your life that encouraged you in STEM?
Tricia: Absolutely! I had several fantastic female role models throughout my science and math education from elementary school through high school and beyond. One of them was my high school science teacher. She was constantly aiming to learn more and participated in continuing education classes in the summers. She was always so excited to teach us biology, chemistry and physics. I was even able to be an assistant one year with her and help with lab preparations and other work she had in the science lab. In fact, that’s where I was when the Challenger explosion happened. She’d gone off to the teacher lounge to watch and I was in the classroom/lab, doing some work. She came back and I remember her stunned explanation of what had happened. I still keep in touch with her now and she’s gone on to continue her learning and expand her teaching skills throughout the years.
Girlstart: What’s it like to be a woman working in a male-dominated STEM field?
Tricia: Engineering is all about problem solving and I’ve always used those skills in my workplace. I focus on the problem at hand, figure out the best way to go about it, and then go do it. I would use that approach in any work setting I’m in and have done so in male-dominated environments as well as female-dominated environments.
But I do know the feeling of being “the one” at the table. I’ve been in many meetings and on many projects where I have been the only woman. For the males I’ve worked with, I never got the sense that my gender mattered to them. If I was doing my job and accomplishing our goals, then all was fine. However, I did sometimes experience the “imposter syndrome” wondering when the others would figure out that I really didn’t know what I was doing….even though I really did know! I sometimes felt the isolation of being “the one” in the room and felt self-conscious about my contributions, body language, appearance, etc. But again, I never felt it from those I worked with.
Having also worked in majority-female environments, I’ve found it is often easier in the majority-male environments. As a task and goal oriented person, I am not interested as much in chit-chat and all the touchy feely relationship stuff that sometimes is needed with majority-female teams and workplaces. I have to get outside of my engineering mindset and take the time to build the relationships. I haven’t felt that need was there or perhaps wasn’t that strong when working in majority-male environments.
Having female mentors and peers who could serve as my sounding board and help me get past any insecurity has always been critical. Regardless of the work environment, I still depend on mentors and “best career friends”.
Girlstart: Why is confidence in STEM important for girls?
Tricia: Confidence is critical in anything you pursue. If you don’t have the confidence you can do something, then it’s really going to be difficult to do it. Boys will often share their “expertise” in science and math exuberantly, even when they may be average or below. If girls aren’t confident in their abilities, the “expertise” of boys can create doubt in the minds of girls in their own abilities. And once the doubt is there, the confidence continues to degrade as does the interest in STEM. Why go into something where others seem to get it easily and know it? Girls have to have confidence in their abilities…and in their ability to learn and grow and make a difference in our world through STEM. We know they can do it. We need to ensure they know they can do it!
Girlstart: What do you think should be done to encourage the next generation of girls inSTEM?
There are so many things that can be done to encourage girls to pursue STEM. Getting role models in front of the girls can make a huge difference. Seeing someone who looks like you and talks like you and has been where you are can help you visualize yourself on that career path. Countering stereotypes and talking about stereotypes with girls can make a difference. Showing examples of how engineers and scientists are making our world a better place can excite and encourage the next generation of girls in STEM. And giving girls the opportunity to experience STEM in fun, encouraging and confidence building ways such as through Girlstart summer camps and WEP at UT Austin’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day can light the spark a girl needs to continue on with math and science. There are lots of things we can do!