Since completing my first year at the University of St. Andrews studying Computer Science, I have realised the importance of supporting underrepresented groups in STEM. During my high school years, Computer Science was not an overpopulated career choice and therefore, I always felt somewhat isolated and unique in my passion for CS. However, this never translated into uncertainty or insecurity. Furthermore, I had never felt that as an Indian female student that these factors were even relevant to my pursuit of this career. It was only during my first year that I was faced with the reality that I was entering a male-dominated industry. Again, I had never previously felt that this fact had any real or substantial impact to my education, but I now realise how naive I had been.
It was only until an unpleasant experience which occurred in the presence of a male friend who explained that I was being treated unjustly. This incident occurred in a group setting where I was working collaboratively on a project and it became apparent to my friend that my opinions were not being heard and further, I was not being treated as a proper member of this group. I simply disregarded that observation as an overthought, but on further analysis, I realised that there was a certain discomfort I was experiencing, which resulted in me taking on a more passive approach to the project. I eventually ended my role in the group and asked that they continue without me. It may seem that the unfairness was very obvious, however, I wish to stress that I did and do not see myself as different to the hundreds of people who sit in the computer lab every day and I always see people for their hard work and skills and therefore, I would excuse this behaviour for “Oh they probably didn’t like my idea” or “It’s probably just because I’m new”. This ignorance was only broken because my friend realised that there was more going on than my self-doubts.
Even to this day, I question whether the experience I had was truly sexism, but this is simply because I don’t want to believe this issue is as impactful or common as it is. I want other women to realise that this issue is still prevalent in our society and it is the job of fellow men and women to help identify and rectify the prejudice in this industry. Being an active member of WICS (Women in Computer Science) has given me an environment where I can feel welcomed and has given me many opportunities that will enable me to have a great future without inequality.
By Zaynab Zahra