Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Minority Status

This post is a result of a conversation regarding minority status and "privilege" in society.  It goes well with my previous rant about the "Male to Female Ratio in Engineering"

Story Time! My freshman year of college, I was studying with a few guys from my first college calculus class.  It was probably the 7th week or so (about 2/3 through the quarter), and the subject of gender came up (as it does occasionally with my engineering peers).  One of the guys at the table said, "Well she (pointing to me) will be the first one to get a job because she's female."  

Ooooo, I was mad. I said the following words, "Look around the table! (there were 4 other guys) Who got the highest grade on the last math midterm we had?! Me! I'm not going to get hired because I'm female. I'm gunna get hired because I'm more qualified than you." Granted, it was a little mean, and he probably didn't mean it like that.  But I've made that standpoint clear throughout my undergraduate career. 

Funny Story: A few weeks back, I was Skyping with a friend while studying for a midterm.  He was in the computer lab, while I was at home.  I asked my Skype friend, "Hey, can you ask Jack about number 3?" Not realizing that I was on Skype, Jack replied to my Skype friend "I don't know! Ask Serena!" It made my day when I realized my placement among the engineers, especially when looking back at the freshman calculus experience.

So I conclude:
Never use your minority status (whether it be race, religion, first-generation, gender, LGBT, disability, anything) as your backbone to do anything in life. Your minority status does not determine your work ethic and vice versa.  If you rely on those minority statues that I mentioned above, you are playing, what I call, the "poor-me" card, and you'll pity yourself into a bad situation.  

However, don't undermine what you have as a minority student. You have experiences, and you have a lot to learn.  You should be proud of who you are as an individual, and use your individuality and self to become who you are (like the saying "Be Yourself")....if you get my drift. 



  1. These are all excellent points, and you should never let someone insinuate that you're racial background gives you an edge above them in terms of intelligence or whatever the case may be. However, I don't think anyone should shy away from leveraging their minority status when it comes time to attempt to be noticed by potential employers. It certainly shouldn't be a crutch, but you should also make sure your gender and race are not a secret. Companies are always seeking out diversity, and filling up that quota may be what gets your resume a second glance.

    If you look at our semester at NASA, there were 5 male / 5 female. I believe the races were all very balanced as well with Hispanics, Whites, and Asians. If 100 engineers applied for that position with 90 being male and 10 being female, the females have less competition.

    However with that being said, I don't envy females in engineering. The situation you described in your first story is one of the reasons I believe there are less females to males in engineering. It can be discouraging when your peers give you a hard time, even in jest. I'm afraid this may drive many students away.

    Keep up the great work, Serena! I've been enjoying these articles.

    1. You need to remember that employers cannot discrimated on the basis of any protected class, which includes gender. As Nicole has mentioned, each NASA interned was hired by the individual mentors. Even the statistics for USRP students say that 30% of the interns are female, which is much closer to the collegiate ratio.

      Again, females do not have more competition. We have just as much competition as everyone else. There are legal obligations for employers, and especially in the public sector (such as NASA), there cannot be discrimination on the basis of a protected class.

    2. This is very interesting. I think I'm going to look into this further. I feel as though I was misinformed at one point. If there are strict rules to be followed, I'm sure NASA is no exception and is following them as by-the-book as possible.

      If you have any sources for the information regarding the legal obligations, I'd be interested in taking a look. If you're too busy, I can work the Google tubes.

      Thank you.

    3. For reference, please refer to
      There are countless other sources regarding discrimination, and this is just one of them. By only hiring a female, you discriminate against men, and vice versa. If you look at the USRP hiring at other NASA centers, you'll find that the ratio evens out, even with the odd case of 50/50 at Goddard.

    4. Thank you, Serena! That documentation was very straightforward.


  2. Just putting this out there: our semester at NASA was oddly balanced. My first time there it was almost all guys. Anyway, USRP doesn't even hired a group of interns, the mentors hire us separately based on our qualifications/experience. So to say that women have a greater chance because they're a minority in the STEM workplace and because they're only competering against other women is kind of farfetched.

    I agree that being a woman in any STEM career makes you a minority, but that doesn't mean that you necessarily have less competition. Female science and engineering majors have to work twice as hard sometimes because if they're not AMAZING in they're field, nobody takes them seriously.

    At least, that's been my experience.

    1. That's very interesting (the NASA balance), the balance was awfully suspicious.

      I'll agree on your statement that women don't have a greater chance to be hired because they are competing with other women. However, to say that females have to work "twice as hard" seems to go backwards on most of what you're saying. I don't think the professional industry is full of people that have a hard time taking female scientists and engineers seriously. If that has been the majority of your observations, then I can understand where you are coming from.