article Fall 2022

The Challenges of Women in STEM and How to Confront Them: A Propelling Women in Power Podcast Review

Astresha Biswas – MS Student in Department of Mechanical Engineering

This podcast by two undergraduate UW-Madison students highlights the experiences of women professionals in STEM and discusses how to overcome the obstacles of a field riddled with sexism.

As society progresses, women’s impact in science and technology has become more prevalent and accepted. Although there has been progress, the progression of women in STEM has been slow and met by countless roadblocks. Society often sees women as less than men in academics and beyond, which can inhibit women from being able to reach their full potential and lead them to having undeserved self-doubt.

These roadblocks are the subject of the podcast Propelling Women in Power. This podcast is run by two young women studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michelle Chung and Mary Riker. Chung is a senior, majoring in biology and environmental studies and Riker, a junior, is majoring in civil and environmental engineering. The podcast emphasizes listening to and learning from other successful women’s experiences. They focus on combating gender norms and biases women face in their classes and workplaces as STEM professionals. 

Through this podcast, the pair hope to teach young women in science how to work toward success. More importantly, they teach how to succeed while faced with obstacles. Riker and Chung stress not only overcoming obstacles but using them as launching points from which to learn and grow. 

The pair interview women who work in fields ranging from microbiology to environmental studies. Their guests share their best advice for learning from instances of prejudice. They also tell the stories of becoming successful women in STEM, who are confident in their abilities and work. 

Through these interviews, Chung and Riker explore different perspectives of adapting to adversity. One key piece of advice was to make sure that your efforts and ideas are heard. Overcoming the fear instilled by society that the word “woman” is less credible than “man” is crucial to detaching from harmful biases in STEM. 

In an episode from July of 2022, titled “Give a Little Bit”, the pair interview Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center Research Coordinator, Adrianna Trusiak. They discuss the prevalence of impostor syndrome and how it disproportionately affects women and other underrepresented groups in science. Trusiak explains that imposter syndrome is not acquired but an inescapable byproduct of society. To get over impostor syndrome, women must believe in their own success and attribute it to nothing other than themselves and their hard work.

Vanessa Barton – PhD Student in Department of Mechanical Engineering

Another episode, titled “Chocolate Cake,” features Riker and Chung interviewing Life Sciences and Communication Professor Dominique Brossard. They discuss the need to overtly address sexism in STEM. If these issues are publicly recognized, then the issue cannot be suppressed. It forces correct firm response. Perpetrators can realize their biases, intentional or not, and learn from them.

As a woman who has faced adversity throughout my own academic career, it can be hard to recognize these acts of bias, because they can range in severity. The podcast asserts that it is not only important for both women and others to recognize these events. They need to correct themselves if needed and most importantly learn from the experience. 

Through interviews with successful women sharing their remarkable experiences, Chung and Riker delve into the importance of women not only respecting and believing in each other, but also themselves. Allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes, making your voice heard, and reminding yourself that you are capable of impactful work is crucial for women to thrive in STEM.

If you are interested in learning more about ways to address bias against women, tune in to  Propelling Women in Power. This podcast delivers insightful and captivating accounts of female STEM professionals, and the years of experience they have navigating their careers.

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