Building Courage and Creating Support Systems
In celebration of International Women’s Day, Techbridge Girls is pleased to highlight the bold, compassionate women who lead fearlessly through the Chevron Executive Women’s Group. The Chevron Executive Women’s Group empowers its members through opportunities for networking and fellowship, and uplifts its surrounding community through partnership with mission-focused nonprofit organizations. Their goal is to support girls in our community and to positively impact girls’ lives, so they can realize their full potential for a bright future.
Two members of the Group, Chris Alcantara-Richard (Organizational Capabilities Special Projects Manager) and Irene Melitas (General Manager, Benefit Plan Investments), recently shared their visions for the future of women in STEM and their own approaches to leading fearlessly in the face of adversity. With critical lenses informed by their personal and professional experiences, Chris and Irene shed light on the need to improve girls’ self-confidence, expand their awareness of STEM opportunities, and build systems of support for them to succeed in STEM.
Chris’s own journey as a young woman reflects a position that many of the youth Techbridge Girls serves find themselves in today, as the daughters of immigrants who will be the first in their families to graduate from college. She connects a lack of role models for our girls with a lack of awareness of opportunities for them to pursue a STEM path. While Chris always excelled at science and math, she didn’t have any STEM role models to talk to about career paths, so she entered college without declaring a major. “I thought I might major in chemistry,” Chris said, “but then figured out I’d have to get a PhD, and we didn’t have the money.”
Similarly, girls from low-income communities may not pursue STEM in higher education because they’re not aware of the scholarships and funding opportunities that could be available to them. Without “having the support structure to provide you with that information,” Chris said, girls will continue to “face a lack of awareness of what’s possible in the field and how you can get there.”
Like Chris, Irene views support systems and awareness as critical for young women to realize their visions of themselves as STEM professionals. “Young minds really need to be exposed to a broad range of experiences and opportunities to explore and help them establish a path forward in life,” she said. “If you’re not given that exposure, that limits the opportunities ahead of you. For real progress to occur, we need to support a young girl’s journey from start to finish, leading to and through her actual career.”
Chris and Irene both feel that to succeed in truly enabling more girls to enter the STEM workplace, STEM education must also foster “softer” skills, like confidence and self-worth, alongside concrete science, math, engineering, and technological skills. Girls’ progress will be hindered if their self-confidence is not cultivated, and if they believe negative stereotypes about women in STEM. “The advice I would give to girls who’d be interested in STEM is to believe in yourself and go for it,” Irene added.
As members of the Chevron’s Executive Women’s Group, Chris and Irene put that same advice into practice every day. Reflecting on their own journeys, they both remember fighting to break ground in a time when leadership in the STEM workforce comprised even fewer women. Irene’s experiences have shaped her definition of leading fearlessly as “leading with the belief that anything is possible, and being not only open to, but also committed to the journey that comes with that premise.” For Irene, leading fearlessly “requires a willingness to put yourself out there, to take a stance, to try new things and take risks to achieve your vision. But it’s also about having the courage to own your decisions and to embrace setbacks as a learning opportunity — and then getting right back on the saddle.”
Chris also highlights the courage needed to challenge convention and forge a place for girls and women to belong: “[Leading fearlessly] means not being afraid of challenging the status quo, and being really focused on inclusion. I think it’s having the courage to point out bias in all forms, because we need to make sure that we maximize the contribution of everyone and that everyone’s voices are heard, and that we value everyone that comes to the table.”
Women like these members of the Chevron Executive Women’s Group inform Techbridge Girls’ praxis as we champion girls and help them find their places as leaders in STEM. Together, as we address the needs of the next generation of girls pursuing STEM, we will help young women to see STEM as a place where they belong, and ensure that more fearless leaders emerge to shape the field and our world.