SHPEtinas UCF, a new female-focused committee that is part of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) UCF, is seeking to create conversation about Latina women and the experiences they face within professional settings.
The SHPE UCF Chapter, created in 2002, offers numerous opportunities to its members, such as internships, scholarships, professional workshops, and networking with industry leaders and other students in various locations. SHPEtinas UCF, whilst only being formed at the beginning of last Fall semester, is offering these opportunities to their members as well and is also providing a safe space for all Latina STEM majors to be heard. The group strives to let Latina women know that they have an entire community behind them in every endeavor they pursue, SHPEtinas Co-Director Ariane Avendano said.
Avendano, a junior computer science major and a first-generation Bolivian-American, wants to raise the voices of her fellow SHPE Latina members and offer them support.
“We want to create a safe space for women SHPE members to be heard and empowered in their community,” she said.
Events such as “Cafecito Talks” are held regularly by the group. A “Cafecito Talk” is typically regarded as a casual conversation over coffee, but the group brings meaning to these talks by speaking on important matters that affect their community, Avendano said. She said some topics that they have covered are about being a minority, double-standards, sexism, the pay-gap, minorities within minorities —such as being a woman and Hispanic— and more.
“These conversations are tough because they’re not what we usually talk about in our club,” Avendano said. “We want to give a space where they can comfortably ask questions and share their experiences.”
Their last “Cafecito Talk” event was navigated by fellow SHPEtinas Co-Director Whitney Stuckey, on the topic of confidence in the workplace as women. The event invited audience members to participate by sharing their definition of confidence, why they think men and women display it differently in professional settings, and some tips from the group on how to build confidence as a Latina woman in the workplace.
Stuckey, a senior industrial engineering major, was born and raised in the Republic of Panama and moved to the United States in the Summer of 2018. With Women’s History Month in mind, Stuckey spoke about the strides women have taken towards equality.
“Women have come a long way to achieve equality in all senses. Now it is our time to keep building that momentum and not to allow older generations to bring us down. It’s our time to create role models for younger generations," Stuckey said.
The SHPEtinas website states that while women make up 24% of the STEM field, only 3% are Latinas. Stuckey made sure to speak on the lack of Latina representation in STEM.
“This is something we should work on, to empower other women so they do not give up on their dreams. We need to change that stereotype of ‘masculine’ jobs, and we need to normalize Hispanic women in STEM,” she said.
Sandra Chavez, a technology consulting senior analyst at Accenture Technology, frequents the groups’ meetings as a mentor. Chavez has a heavy presence in SHPE UCF and SHPEtinas, as well as at other schools. The senior analyst spoke about how being a Latina woman in a male-dominated workplace sometimes makes her feel inadequate.
“A lot of my male peers express themselves a little more directly, whereas I feel like I’m not saying the right things sometimes,” Chavez said. “As a professional now, I do have to find a way to not get caught up in that, as I’m usually the only female in most of my teams.”
Stuckey said that women face the issue of a double-bind bias in the workplace, they are often stuck between two ideals: what is expected of a leader, and what is expected of a woman. The co-director said that confidence matters as much as competence for women.
“When women are decisive, they are categorized as mean, or bossy. But men are simply seen as leaders,” Stuckey said. “Not only is a woman’s competence called into question, but also her character. For women, likability is a requirement for success.”
Whilst noted that these attitudes are slowly but surely changing, both Stuckey and Avendano reassured everyone that Latina women have a strong community behind them that can help them break the mold and institutionalize their place in STEM programs.
SHPEtinas is looking toward the future optimistically, hoping to have more constructive events in the future that will provide a sense of comfort and encouragement to fellow Latina STEM majors.
The group said they plan on creating future volunteering opportunities like the Habitat for Humanity outing they had on Feb. 27. They said they are also eager to create more programs for Latinas to work in collaboration with renowned companies, such as SHPE’s collaboration with Siemens, to bring more women into the energy industry.
Stuckey said that the group helped expose her to her current job at Siemens. She said the program is important as the company is looking to fill its roles with more women.
Avendano said that SHPEtinas is planning more events to provide chances for their members to network with professionals, give advice, and go into the industry.
“Now that we’ve established this community, the women in SHPEtinas feel ready to push each other forward and rise,” Avendano said.
SHPE UCF President Carlos Arboleda, a sixth-year industrial engineering major, also shared his thoughts on SHPEtinas’ presence in the group. He said that when the school year started they wanted the group to be a place for their female members to call their own.
“In the pandemic, we have had to adapt and depend on each other in different ways. SHPEtinas is a solidifying component of our chapter; they really brought people together, and they show that it’s okay to have these hard conversations,” Arboleda said.
In light of Women’s History Month, the group said they felt compelled to share their message for all Latina women looking to break the barrier into the STEM program.
“We have an incredible support system in the Hispanic community,” Avendano said. “There is no longer a glass ceiling, but obstacles that push Latina women away from STEM and make it harder for them to achieve their goals. But everything is achievable - the glass ceiling is broken, there’s just this big labyrinth we have to face.”
A previous version of this article referred to the meeting date as Feb. 28 rather than the actual date of Feb. 27.