Closing the Gap

I have always been highly passionate about social, gender and equality topics, but a recent event hosted by the Undergraduate Women in Business (UWiB) called “Closing the Gap” opened my eyes even more deeply to how we can integrate diversity and inclusion into the workplace.

UWiB brought in speakers not only from UW's business school, but also professors from STEM departments and industry professionals outside of the school as well. Joyce Yen, a professor in the CSE department, started the talk by educating us on the significance of diversity. When we think of the word diversity, our minds may automatically wander towards the issues of gender and race. However, if we only think about gender and race, it become exclusionary and thus ignoring the other social identities. Beyond the appearance of one’s skin, there are also numerous factors such as personality, personal interest, family background and education that we should all be mindful of. Thus, there is the need for diversity and inclusion in multiple perspectives and differences.

Professor Yen also emphasizes the concept of bias. A common misconception about bias is that it is often intentionally and purposefully made. However, even though we may want to deny it, bias is hidden within every single person. It becomes even more troublesome when it is unintentional and implicit. She recommended each of us to take an implicit association test to recognize our unconscious biases.

It is important to start fixing the system and not the individual. We can start by acknowledging the issue, recognize our role, and create accountability to change past norms and practices.  When we look at the word “equality”, it may seem to indicate a good and positive idea. However, it is vital to go beyond equality (everyone gets the same) and move to equity, which means that everyone gets what they really need. After equity, then comes liberation, where we can actually break down the barrier and change the system internally.  

We moved onto a Q&A panel session, where each professional gets the chance to share their thoughts on what closing the gap means to them in the industry. Accounting professor Peter Demerjian talked about how it is important to include men in the conversation as well, because it is all about combining forces to put people with the drive to change the industry in leadership positions. Kasey Champion, another UW CSE professor, stressed the importance to not being competitive in your own community. She advised us to frequently give compliments to each other, and make room for not only yourself but also for your peers. Surprisingly, encouragement from peers and friends can become so powerful and meaningful to a lot of people. By building that strong connection and relationship, women can thus launch themselves into leadership roles and gain more visibility.

Jamie Park, the Director of Employee Development at TUNE, shared her thoughts on visibility. She encourages us to start amplifying our voices in classrooms by trying to speak up at least three times. While it is easy to have imposter syndrome, don’t be afraid to make that mental shift and start treating ourselves seriously. Jamie urged us to not be distracted on what we should be, and instead point ourselves authentically towards our own values. Overall, it was heartwarming and thought-provoking space to open up vulnerable and emotional conversations. These mind-triggering words and doses of inspiration are applicable to every single one of us as we enter the workplace, and definitely prompt us to think outside the comfortable bubble of our daily lives.