Why we all should be encouraging women to develop careers in STEM

Marilu Cruz-Bravo

Faculty: Science and Engineering
School: Engineering and the Built Environment
Course:Engineering Management MSc
Category: Engineering

16 February 2023

When I was a primary school student, I realised mathematics was not difficult for me, the logic in basic math was somehow relaxing. It made me feel good as I was able to solve problems.

My mother, a woman from a small Mexican town with no schooling beyond secondary, encouraged me to keep studying - “You are smart, so it better you study. You do not need to learn cooking or cleaning” – She knew the traditional role of a woman in her little town had very few advantages and found a life different from hers fascinating. My father, also a towny guy who started university studies as an actuary but did not finish due to lack of money, he was pleased with my performance. I remember his face, showing a mixture of desperation and hope while telling me “If you want to have children and get married, that’s OK but first study, work, and travel. You have to get to know the world and only after that you should consider forming a family.”

Marilu Cruz-Bravo with college group outside Anglia Ruskin University

During my high school studies, my closest friends all wanted to be engineers. “Computer engineering, that’s fashionable, that sounds cool”. So, I said, “Yeah, let’s do it”. In 1999 that was state-of-the-art. I went to my father, feeling very proud of myself, and told him I was pursuing a career in engineering. He was dreaming of me being a Business Administrator, his reaction was not rejection but also no total support. “Engineering? OK, if this is what you want. But you must investigate better your chosen discipline, so you are fully aware of what is it about, what are you going to do in the future, where you can work”.

Reading, investigating, asking. After that, I realised Industrial Engineering was appealing to me. My friends looked at me doing my personal research, did their own, and chose other engineering disciplines. My father agreed when listening to me explaining what Industrial Engineering was about, even when in those days I had a very general idea: engineering was about systems integrated by humans, machines, and natural resources, all the elements interacting, having an impact on one above other, organised to manufacture products and provide services, with the final aim to improve society.

We had no money; I remember days in which we had nothing for dinner. My mother took several jobs to support our finances, from janitor to waitress. My father lost his job and did every honest activity that would allow him some income. My parents managed to keep me, my sisters, and my brother alive while ensuring we were studying as they both believed a career would open doors for all of us. My parents also talked to me from their own visions of the world. From their inner values and beliefs, built on their experiences and learnings. Every single word that came out of their mouths shaped my future and my world. They never told me I was not capable, they never suggested I had to fulfill “my role” as a woman.

I was extremely lucky.

But that was not the case for the people I get to know during my school years. I was not the only female who was good at maths. I particularly remember a young girl - smart, agile, and disciplined. She was told by her mother that she needed to continue with the family business, a modest Mexican food restaurant. I saw her grow away from what she loved because her family did not support her and demanded she does what she was supposed to do. Fulfilling her role.

Another case in high school was one of my engineers-to-be friends. Beautiful, intelligent, and good at math, and science.  She falls in love, gets married before her 18th birthday, and believes her “role” now is to have children, take care of them and her husband, and only after that, perhaps, do something that she loved: studying.

A friend of mine in high school was born as a male, but inside she knows she is a woman. Every day her parents, her family, and her environment are all demanding she behaves like a man. It took her years to start talking about it and loving herself.

Marilu Cruz-Bravo with college group outside Anglia Ruskin University

My son Hector loves dancing. He has seen ballet dancers and expresses his desire to dance like Isaac Hernandez, the best Mexican ballet dancer, world widely known and recognised. I enrolled Hector in the ballet lesson, at a kindergarten, in Mexico. He is the only male in the group. The little girls told him: “Are you going to dance with us? You don’t belong here; you are a man.” My son gets ashamed and wants to quit. I speak to the teacher. Says she understands but can do nothing.

I hate gender roles. If they come in the path of a person that loves science; that gets excited when learning mathematics or biology or chemistry; that wants to dance and sing and fly; that is tech savvy and can fix, create, and solve; then we all should be taking actions and supporting people to overcome them. We all, regardless of our gender, should be encouraging people to be who they want to be. We all are not free if one person is pushed to do differently from what he/she really wants to.

This is one of the main reasons why I am here, in Chelmsford, in Anglia Ruskin University, doing what I love: studying Engineering Management. I want to inspire others to do what they want to do. I wish the person that was told to fulfill a role can read this because I know the truth: You can be whatever you want to be. It will be not easy. But it is worth it.

P.S. I also love cooking and cleaning and I am good at it. There is nothing you cannot do.


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