When we think about Women’s History Month, we can’t help but think of all of the Latinas — and women in general — throughout time whose incredible work has gone unacknowledged. We often have to remind ourselves that while those who worked quietly to make room for the rest of us may never get the level of recognition they deserve, they helped pave the way for Latinas who in 2023, refuse to be invisible. We recently had a chance to speak with a few powerful Latinas making a name for themselves in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) world, and helping create space and opportunities for other Latinas in the field. Remarkably, all three had quite similar takeaways about STEM careers and the challenges Latinas and other minorities face in STEM professions.
“There are many challenges that come with being a double or triple minority in STEM. However, STEM is very fascinating, and it offers us career paths that can help us reach a different level in our lives,” mechanical engineer Diana Iracheta tells HipLatina. “They also give us education and opportunities where we can succeed. However, there are still very few of us, so having resources, role models and support are essential.”
As of December 2022, Latinxs as a whole make up 17 percent of the U.S. workforce, but just 8 percent of the STEM workforce, which is actually an increase from previous years, according to the Pew Research Center. To Iracheta’s point, we have a long way to go, but Latinas are out there creating these opportunities in STEM for themselves, and for each other.
“Back in 2020, I landed my dream job, I was working for a huge organization as a senior product owner, and I realized that not a lot of women looked like me in this field,” Natalie Marino, who works as the director of IT solutions for an HR company, says. “And, I just felt really, really lucky and I was filled with gratitude where I just wanted to spread the wealth and I had this one thought: ‘how can I help other girls get to the same places that I have been, or do what it is that I do?'”
So, much like Iracheta, Marino who considers herself a “solutions architect,” launched a side business aimed at creating community, and subsequently opportunities for women and Latinas in STEM. In 2019, Iracheta founded Latina Engineer with the intention of empowering young Latinas in STEM with educational and professional resources. Marino’s company, The Latina Techie, allows her to act as a consultant and mentor for other Latinas in tech or those aspiring to be.
Similarly, Shannon Morales, who considers herself a “social entrepreneur,” creating businesses that “provide a social impact to disadvantaged or under-represented communities,” launched the organization, Tribaja, which serves as both a career marketplace and a community for “under supported tech talent,” serving mainly Black and Latinx individuals.
Interestingly, both Marino and Morales, shifted into STEM after realizing that their original career paths were not working with their lifestyles or for their goals. Both used the tools and skills they learned in their previous careers as well as their experiences as Latinas specifically, to transition into the roles they now hold.
“I realized that the best school was actually my hands-on experience that I was going to learn as a business owner,” Morales, who actually withdrew from her MBA program in favor of getting her business started sooner, says. “The best training course I could have was just me starting my own business and having that hands-on experience and my undergrad was in business so I already had that foundational understanding.”
All three Latinas acknowledge that the tech world is growing at a rapid rate and that opportunities are almost endless at the moment. They agree that a degree in a tech or STEM-related field isn’t alway a necessity in order to get your foot in the door.
“Understand where you want to be,” Marino says, noting that if you want to be in tech specifically, she suggests picking a field or type of business and figuring out what role that company needs filled that you have the skill set to use in that role. “I landed in technology completely on accident,” she says. “I was in benefit administration processing manual benefit enrollment forms and I realized like, ‘this sh– is for the birds. I don’t wanna be doing this manual work.”
She wanted to venture into more analytical work and got into business analyzing data and positioned herself as a “liaison between both worlds.” Eventually, she was able to teach herself to build the technology she was administering. Now, she teaches her clients to do the same, or to find the right people to do it for them.
Echoing Marina, Morales encourages individuals to use what they know to position themselves for one of the many high-paying jobs in tech and STEM on the market today. “Two seemingly unrelated roles can be related if you pull out the skills that are transferrable.”
Latinidad Can be a Superpower
Beyond using your diverse skillset to establish a career in tech or STEM, they recommend using your Latinidad to your advantage. “We prevail at using the tools in our toolbox,” Marino says of Latinas. “It’s our keys past that golden gate. Using our upbringing. We’ve been solution architecting our entire lives,” she says, pointing to the traditional roles of women in Latinx families.
We are expected to make it all work, to hold everything together, to do it all and do it well. We were raised that way, and while it may sometimes feel like undue burden, we now have the opportunity to use it to better ourselves and establish upward mobility.
As Latinas, we may be severely underrepresented in STEM — accounting for just 2 percent of professionals in the field, according to Latina Engineer — but there is room for us. “There is a lot of room for growth. Women more than ever are advocating and are taking control of their careers. There has also been a raise of women pursuing education at larger numbers than men in Mexico, and I hope this reflects in the US as well,” Iracheta tells us. “Tech and software roles are now more than ever popular and growing. I expect this to continue to be the trend.”
Careers in STEM
Some of the STEM career paths currently on the rise include Cybersecurity roles; Artificial Intelligence (AI); anything that can be created to automate manual task; data analysis and manipulation; electrical vehicle technicians, Morales tells us. Additionally, managing AI, cryptocurrency, and software engineering, Marino shares.
Perhaps most importantly, they encourage Latinas chasing STEM careers to tap into the networks and resources that have been created to help us. All three are hosting or sponsoring events and/or scholarship programs for Latinas in STEM this year, and plan to for the foreseeable future.
Iracheta hosts the annual International Latina Engineer Week Conference, the largest of its kind for Latinas with virtual and in-person sessions. Morales is organizing a three-day tech conference in May, Diversitech, designed to explore the intersections of technology and culture offering workshops and networking opportunities.
For her part, Marino hosts events regularly, and is currently working on “A Seat at Her Table,” a conference returning for a second year this summer with panels on topics including finances, motherhood, working in tech, and being a Latina professional.
“There will be many challenges and people who will get in the way but your desire to reach your dreams should be bigger. STEM can help us be the one to change the narrative of our lives and can lead us to opportunities that can help us help our families, our future, and our community,” Iracheta says. “Every Latina in STEM is a role model.”
Now, go out there and get it. It’s time to make your own history.