UC Berkeley career-oriented clubs, organizations empower female students

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UC Berkeley has a rich and diverse collection of clubs and organizations that aim to empower female-identifying students and help them enter male-dominated careers.

The UC Berkeley Society of Women Engineers, or SWE, aims to create and support a community of female engineers on campus. It holds monthly general meetings, information sessions, workshops and an “externship” program that seeks to foster the social and professional development of its members.

According to Zoe Husted, SWE vice president of corporate relations, the organization’s work is not limited to just college students.

“We also promote STEM to girls and other underrepresented groups through various outreach programs and have recently become involved with advocacy efforts to support women in engineering through public policy as well,” Husted said in an email.

Similarly, the Association of Women in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, or AWE, focuses on promoting female empowerment in technology and creating a space where women feel comfortable in engineering, currently a male-dominated field, according to AWE activities coordinator Eileen Liu. AWE holds technical workshops and “breaktimes” with companies. It also hosts faculty lunches and collaborates with female-identifying professors in STEM.

Liu credits AWE with providing her with a welcoming and inclusive environment where she was able to make friends and develop a powerful technical background.

“Although the perspective of women in STEM is improving, there are still a lot of gaps in the industry and on campus,” Liu said in an email. “AWE wants to improve the perspective through supporting and uplifting individuals, and providing events that allow members to build their strengths and technical skills. AWE also represents a safe space for women that can share experiences through our mentorship program, but also by bringing up issues such as harassment in the department.”

Berkeley Women in Business, another female career-oriented group on campus, aims to serve as a leadership development resource for female-identifying undergraduate students in business, as well as to foster discussions on gender equality in the workplace. It hosts professional events that revolve around a “Women In” theme; its members also volunteer with the Alameda County Family Justice Center to share their financial empowerment knowledge and professional skills.

Deeksha Chaturvedi, president of Berkeley Women in Business, said her organization focuses on developing skills for negotiation and promotion for women in the workplace.

“At the upper echelons of management, it’s predominantly male,” Chaturvedi said. “If you don’t see the senior leaders that are from diverse backgrounds, then as a junior person, it seems like that those positions are less attainable for you as an individual.”

According to Dean of the College of Engineering Tsu-Jae King Liu, the number of female-identifying students in the electrical engineering and computer sciences department has been slowly and steadily increasing over the years but is still not representative of society. She attributed this inequality to many factors, including external bias, discrimination and imposter syndrome.

ASUC Senator Media Sina said, as a chemical engineering major, she recognizes and acknowledges the barriers that women face, especially in STEM. According to Sina, employers should actively recruit qualified women into their workplaces for there to be larger steps toward gender equality.

“There’s obviously a lot of work that needs to be done both in academia and industry for not only encouraging female and nonbinary folk to study and work in STEM but also around retaining them and making them feel included,” said ASUC Senator Omotara Oloye.

Oloye and Sina, along with ASUC Senator Joseph Besgen, have partnered with SWE to help extend their reach to more students. They hope to bring SWE’s voice to the ASUC by hosting events, including case competitions, and extending positions in their individual offices. The ultimate goal, according to Sina, is to show what the ASUC can do for STEM majors.

As a computer science major, Oloye added that female representation in STEM is important and called it a “powerful” tool for increasing diversity and inclusion. She said she also believes that increased representation can dismantle stereotypes and biases, improve health and lead to an increase in productivity.

Like Sina, Oloye attended several SWE meetings this year. She said she has been heavily involved in attempting to bring opportunities to marginalized women of color in STEM.

“The most valuable thing women can do for each other is to persist. Be each other’s support systems and see each other grow and thrive in this field,” Sina said. “As we struggle but persist, we pave the way for the next generation of female scientists, and we get that much closer to closing the gender gap.”

Contact Tarunika Kapoor at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tkapoor_dc.