Q&A: STEMinist creator Ann Hoang on rewriting the STEM story for students
Women around the world are taking to the streets on International Women’s Day to urge faster progress on gender parity in economic opportunity, education and other important issues. The theme this year, #PressforProgress, is perfectly tuned to the challenges society faces. Read more on the Official Microsoft Blog here.
The Microsoft Education Team conducted the following Q&A with Ann Hoang, creator of STEMinist, which focuses on women in Science, Tech, Engineering and Math. By aggregating and featuring stories about women in STEM from across the web, they hope to: increase the visibility of women in STEM; promote and elevate the perspective of women in these traditionally underrepresented fields; encourage younger women and girls to pursue careers in STEM; capture a social media snapshot of what’s trending for women in STEM.
What do you do?
I recently moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and am a Technical Project Team Lead for Success Software Services, an IT consulting company with clients in Europe and North America. I bridge the gap between the client and the developer team and help deliver the project on time and on budget. In previous adventures, I’ve been a software engineer and Scrum Master for organizations ranging from local government to e-commerce and higher education.
Who or what inspired you to pursue STEM?
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English but as a senior decided to continue my studies in Computer Science, instead of applying to grad school. At the start of my final semester, I read an editorial in Glamour magazine by Margaret Wertheim titled “Women, wake up about computers!” It was 1997 and the internet was about to boom. Wertheim implored women to step up because tech was going to influence and shape a significant portion of society and how we lived – it would be a tremendous loss if women were not more involved.
With the idealism only a 21-year-old could muster, I decided to immediately register for Computer Science 101 and taught myself how to build a website. I’ve always identified as a feminist, but the intersection of social justice and tech really inspired me to take action.
When did you first notice the gender gap in STEM and the tech world?
In my university’s computer science program there were four women out of probably 100 students. The four of us banded together like a herd of unicorns in a magical forest, but I didn’t start truly feeling the gender gap until I began my professional career. Out in the workplace I experienced everything from people asking my male colleagues “Is she right?” whenever I responded to a question, to sexual innuendo and harassment from co-workers and clients.
What really took a toll, however, was the subtle “othering” of always being the only female in the room, the only female voice, the only female perspective. As a woman in tech you are surrounded by and presented with a fair amount of male privilege, regardless of whether anyone chooses to acknowledge it. It can be kind of strange: You stand out as one of the few of your gender, yet you are invisible as someone skilled in STEM because of your gender.
Why do you believe it’s important for more women to pursue STEM now?
Margaret Wertheim was right: Tech and STEM have completely transformed our world and culture in the last 20 years. Incredible progress has been made, but one has to wonder how different it would be if there were 40-50 percent more women involved in shaping that progress. Our world is only getting smaller and more complex. We can’t continue to leave half of the world’s population out of the conversation and expect equitable results. Every field can benefit from greater inclusion and diversity of thought, and STEM is no exception.
What advice would you give teachers looking to inspire young women to pursue careers in STEM?
We need to change the narrative that only boys and men possess an aptitude for STEM. It is hard to dream a future you cannot see. Role models are critical to encouraging girls and women to enter these types of careers. If they can literally see people who look like them and who share similar backgrounds, not just as women but also women of color and/or queer women, disabled women, those who identify as non-binary, from immigrant families, etc. then the hope is STEM becomes a real option, a possibility for their future. Representation matters, but intersectional representation matters just as much.
What advice would you give young students considering careers in STEM?
Science, tech, engineering and math are skills that can be learned by anyone, any time, over time. It’s not about innate ability or whether you were born “good at math” or not. You don’t have to have been coding since birth to be a software engineer. You already possess the ability, it’s just a matter of whether you wish to pursue or explore it. Read up on Impostor Syndrome, recognize it, realize that everyone – regardless of their gender – experiences it, and don’t let it stand in the way of your goals.
What is one thing anyone, a parent, friend or mentor can do to motivate young men and women to pursue STEM careers today?
Change how we tell the story of STEM. Science and math aren’t just learned in books. Tech isn’t just found in a laptop. Show young people the many beautiful, unexpected places STEM can be found and the creative ways in which it can be used. Discovery is magic!
Okay, I have one more: if you’re involved in STEM or know someone who is, submit a STEMinist profile to be included on our site!