How Being a Woman in Science Helped Me Stand up for Myself

From ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a doctor. I grew up absolutely falling in love with science, and every consecutive grade level affirmed my desire to become a physician. As a child there were no barriers in my head. I, as a girl, did not think any differently going into science. Unfortunately, as I grew and matured the harsh reality hit me: I was a girl going into science. 

The statement above makes me slightly cringe. Not because I’m not proud of the fact that I’m a woman going into science, but the fact that it was continually pointed out to me wherever I went. How is a girl going into science any different than a boy going into science? In my mind, there is no difference when it comes to skill and ability. However, as I started to gain realms of experiences in forms of internships and volunteering, I slowly started to see the divide. I found myself having to defend my skills on a regular basis, as well as point out that I might be better at a certain task than the opposite sex. 

In elementary and middle school I was often referred to as “bossy.” After repeatedly being told so, I started to believe it myself. It was not the fact that I took initiative or had the instincts to take charge; I was bossy. I found myself retracting from taking any leadership roles or stepping back, often because I feared I would be called bossy. According to a survey led by the Leading Insights Member Panel on the Center for Creative Leadership, 33% of women have received feedback that they are bossy at work. This number is nearly double of the 17% of men who reported receiving the same feedback. Interestingly enough, the same people surveyed reported observing men exhibiting more bossy behaviors, respectively from self ratings, direct report ratings, and boss ratings. 

In high school, I started hunting for internships. I was fortunate to enter a lab early on in high school and was ecstatic for the opportunity; however, this was short lived. At every point, I had to defend my skills and my reason for being in the lab. I did not realize I was even doing this until a coworker of mine pointed it out. At no point did I find my fellow male interns doing the same thing. They were sure of themselves and let it be known. On the other hand, I had to push my way through to run the same experiment they were, even if I had more experience doing so. A recent study conducted by psychologist Victoria L. Brescoll of Yale University showed that male executives who shared their opinions more openly were rated 10 percent higher than women executives who did the same. Women were rated 14 percent lower respectively. The paranoia that surrounds speaking up in a professional setting is not one that simply exists in our heads. It does exist and is a prevalent issue women have to face on a regular basis. 

This is exactly why I stand up for myself now. I am not sorry that I’m bossy. In fact, I appreciate it. Being “bossy” is not a bad thing. Embrace the fact that you have leadership skills. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

So, yes. I am a woman in science. I am completely capable of having a demanding career and thriving in it. I have learned to stop apologizing for my capabilities, but instead standing up for them. We as women have to learn to not only be confident in our abilities, but also learn to show others we are completely capable. I will continue to be an unapologetic and bossy woman in science.