“I was the first female in my department on the faculty, but there was an additional aspect of that which was that there hadn’t been new hires on the faculty for quite some years so I was also significantly the youngest person in the department,” McNeil said. “It is (men in the department's) job to adjust to you, not you to adjust to their expectations.”
Sexual harassment is proven to be prevalent in STEM fields. According to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, between 20 and 50 percent of female students in STEM majors and more than 50 percent of female faculty in STEM are estimated to have experienced sexual harassment, said Sheila Kannappan, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Of those that took a survey administered by the Allies for Minorities and Women in Science and Engineering, 13 percent reported they were told remarks about their physical appearance, said Leah Bowers, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry.
“The Allies for Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering is an organization that advocates for graduate students and post-docs in the graduate school here at UNC,” Bowers said. “By doing that, we are largely helping graduate, but even more so, graduate students who are on the margins.”
Finding a passion for STEM is important and sometimes students do not have the opportunities to pursue science so they choose a different career, said Esther Kwon, a senior biology major. Programs like SUCCEEDxUNC have been created to combat this issue.
“SUCCEEDxUNC is essentially a group of undergraduate students that work on developing demo and science kits for middle school teachers to use in their classrooms,” Kwon said.
Panelists also discussed solutions to the obstacles women face.
“From my point of view, we need to start hiring women,” said Yaiza Canzani, a professor in the mathematics department. According to the Women in STEM: 2017 Update by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration's, in 2015, only 24 percent of those employed in STEM fields were women.
The panelists agreed that having a mentor is a helpful tool for success in STEM fields.
“I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that that is critical in terms of my ability to stay in science and persist,” said Susan Girdler, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology. “Look around and look for people that are doing what resonates with you.”
Though STEM may appear to be a difficult field for women, the panelists agreed that self-confidence is important.
“If you’re convinced that this is the correct choice for you, I think you can get anywhere,” said Canzani. “Don’t second-guess yourself. You have enough people that are going to be second guessing you. Just trust that you are meant for this.”