Techbridge Girls (TBG) supporter Belinda Worley is a Sr. Product Manager in the Global Strategic Supplier Development group at Amazon. In 2016, Belinda was selected for Leadership Tomorrow, a leadership development program sponsored by the City of Seattle. While in the program, she made a friend who was on Techbridge Girls’ Board of Directors and thought she would be interested in learning about our work.
Belinda told us: “She was RIGHT! Once I learned about TBG’s mission and vision, I knew I had to figure out how I could support such an amazing organization. I try to encourage other Amazon employees to learn about the program and get involved. We sponsored two on-site visits with two classes from Techbridge Girls and had an amazing time! I look forward to continuing to support those events, so I can meet future STEM women and help support them any way I can.”
In this interview, Belinda shares how she leads fearlessly on her STEM career journey, reflects on how her identity contributes to her success in STEM, and offers her perspective on why it’s important to have BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) girls and gender-expansive youth represented in STEM.
Where did you grow up? What was your city or town like? What was your elementary or middle school like?
I was born in Stuttgart, Germany, but moved to Pueblo, Colorado when I was around 2 years old. I lived on an Army Base until the 6th grade. It was a pretty cool place. We felt safe, and all of the kids played with each other and were all from different backgrounds. I had amazing teachers throughout elementary school. My class had about 15 students in it, including students that lived on the base as well as students from the rural community. When we moved to the city of Pueblo and into a larger school district, it was quite a change. The class sizes were larger and there were a lot more students. My middle school, had around 600 students from 6-8 grade, as opposed to 150 in my elementary school, K-5 grade. I had great teachers who really encouraged students to try their best and not be afraid to ask questions if they didn’t understand.
Tell us about your interests, both STEM and non-STEM.
I have always loved math and science, so pursuing a career in STEM was something I was able to figure out pretty early and luckily I had the support of my parents and also some pretty amazing teachers. Outside of my work and volunteering for STEM activities and events, I enjoy working/learning about issues in our community, such as supporting organizations that provide mental health support services, or families that have members with special needs. I want to look for ways in which I can influence the community to be more inclusive. Accept people’s differences as an opportunity to shape a better future. I also LOVE to travel and explore different cultures and parts of the world!
Tell us about your identity and how your identity was shaped.
My mom is from Thailand and my dad is from Mississippi and is African American. Living on a military base, I was fortunate enough to have many different cultures around me. We talked about Thailand, but weren’t really taught the language growing up. My mom was learning English as a second language and we focused on that. As I grew up, I became more focused on trying to learn more about all types of different cultures. I really began to embrace all of my cultural differences as my identity. I am unique and that is pretty awesome!
How did you get interested in STEM?
As a kid, I was always fascinated with how things worked. I used to watch my dad work on the car and ask questions about what he was doing and why. When our VCR (that is a Video Cassette Recorder – dating myself) had issues, I started working on it to fix it. I knew then and there, whatever I was going to do when “I grew up” it was going to be mechanical. My parents were very supportive of my interests and always encouraged me to participate in activities that would let me explore my curiosity when it came to working on “stuff”. I was also fortunate to have supportive teachers who, because I did well in Science and Math always encouraged me to pursue a technical field.
Tell us about the STEM you do and why it’s important. What difference does it make?
Working for Amazon is an amazing space. I work with teams that deploy innovative solutions across the Amazon Fulfillment network, including robotic automation. I think it’s important because as we continue to invent and innovate technology, it will enable people different opportunities to build a career and also, hopefully, help with their personal lives. As the world around us changes, working in a STEM field presents itself with lots of ways to influence and help people across the globe. Whether it be by helping connect people to keep relationships, shopping, building new businesses, or finding creative ways to help the environment, the options are endless! I also worked at Boeing on airplanes. There has been so much innovation when it comes to airplanes over the years. There will always be amazing opportunities to learn and discover, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics!
Why is it important to you that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) girls and gender-expansive youth are represented in STEM? What difference does it make?
The statistics show that BIPOC representation is low in STEM fields. I think it’s important when you are BIPOC that you have a voice and see others with similar backgrounds in the fields that you are interested in. It’s helpful, at least it was for me, to have a role model that could help me navigate my career in a field that had very limited Black female representation, engineering. It also provides a career path that enables financial stability. I think it is extremely hard for BIPOC students to find real supporters for them to follow a STEM field and I want to change that. I remember being told more than once, that I would never make it because I wasn’t smart enough, and fortunately, I had a circle of family and friends who supported and encouraged me to ignore that message. I want girls to know and see that I am a person who will always support them to follow a career path they choose. I also feel, that being a minority in the field, I provide a different perspective. How might a customer look at this product/marketing who is Black or Asian? It brings a different lens that helps inform others of different opportunities.
What about your history or identity contributes to your success in STEM?
I was very fortunate to have an amazing support system throughout my entire life. My parents and teachers were all very supportive and encouraged my curiosity to learn. I also try to learn and support Non-Profits who provide an incredible service for BIPOC communities that they may not have at school or at home. My mom was a great role model, coming to the United States with no understanding of the language, studying to become a citizen, her tenaciousness and sheer determination to reach her goals, helped shape my drive and my success in STEM fields.
How have your experiences helped you implement STEM in your community or wield STEM for social change?
I have benefited from programs focused on females as well as POC in STEM fields. I want to be able to provide that benefit for others. In the workplace, I try to get involved and introduce new programs/ideas that will help provide opportunities for BIPOC people to get into the field of STEM. When I was at the University of Michigan, I had a job with NASA Space Grant, which was a program where NASA provided a grant to a school to support engineering programs. One of my life mentors, Professor Eisley, who was by far one of the most influential people in my academic career, led the program where we went to underprivileged schools and taught engineering/math/science courses with all supplies for free. I can tell you, seeing kids see you as a student working on getting an engineering degree was one of the highlights. They wanted to talk about if/how they could get there. And OF COURSE the answer was a YES! In some of these programs, before your eyes, you could see timid students suddenly realize how amazing they were and how they were learning engineering! It was truly inspiring.
On occasion, we would also talk about other benefits of STEM, like helping people find financial stability with a career in STEM, or how Science and Math solve medical problems, and provide answers for people.
When the going gets hard, what is one strategy you use to keep on going? Who motivates or inspires you?
I will be honest; it does get hard. You will be challenged by people who believe for whatever reason that you got a role or position because of some Diversity goal or initiative, as opposed to your hard-earned merit. And what I do to push through those moments, is remember, what I have accomplished, and I also think about the character of that person who tries to give you their opinion. Is this a person whose opinions you should be giving much thought to, and most of the time the answer is no! In my experience, those people haven’t accomplished what you have and are somehow trying to justify it to themselves. Just keep doing what you are doing. Don’t let someone else diminish all of your accomplishments and hard work. I have been fortunate to have a close network of friends and family who always reiterate that message to me. They remind me of what I have overcome and how accomplished I am.
What would you like Techbridge Girls students to know?!
I would love the TBG students to know they impress me every single time I see them. You girls are AMAZING. You are smart, talented, and will do amazing in any field you choose! Do not ever let anyone tell you otherwise. It will get hard, but know that TBG and supporters are there to help you succeed. Never feel like you can’t talk to someone about your struggles. We are here to support you and your journey.
How do you define “leading fearlessly”? What are you doing now to lead fearlessly?
How I would define leading fearlessly, is being your authentic self. No one else has your experiences, your knowledge, your passion. Never be afraid to let others see how your unique characteristics help you succeed in whatever you put your mind to. You don’t have to mimic someone else who is perceived as a “leader;” lead in the way that feels natural to you. How I lead fearlessly is being open and honest with people. I request feedback and give constructive feedback in the hopes that they will grow. My intent is never to make anyone feel bad, but to help them become an even stronger leader. I don’t know that people can change if you never tell them that they need to. We don’t always like to hear it, but if we look at it as a growth opportunity, hopefully that seed will grow into something amazing!
Techbridge Girls has been advocating for girls and gender-expansive youth for the past two decades. We’ve made progress, but still have more to accomplish on our path to reach 1 million girls by 2030. What is your vision for the future?
I would love to see TBGs get support from more schools/districts to help exceed that goal! I want the metrics of females, especially BIPOC females, in STEM to no longer be an area of focus because the opportunities have equalized for all. Keep doing what you are doing TBGs! You are making a HUGE difference in the lives of thousands of amazing future STEM leaders!