Student Council Bicentennial Committee hosts forum on women in the professional world

Female University professors from a range of disciplines share their personal experiences and advice

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The panel included, from left, Batten Assoc. Prof. Eileen Chou, Commerce Lecturer Sherri Moore, Music Asst. Prof. Nomi Dave, Batten Prof. Kirsten Gelsdorf and Chemistry Prof. Alicia Frantz.

Meagan O'Rourke | Cavalier Daily

Student Council’s Bicentennial Committee hosted a Women’s Forum featuring female professors from the University in Newcomb South Meeting Room Wednesday evening. The panel included Commerce Lecturer Sherri Moore, Asst. Music Prof. Nomi Dave, Batten Assoc. Prof. Eileen Chou, Chemistry lecturer Alicia Frantz and Batten lecturer Kirsten Gelsdorf. 

Camila Zarate, Student Council director of university relations and a third-year college student, said Student Council decided to host the forum in order to highlight the University’s history after becoming coeducational in 1970. The Council also brought in the panelists so they could share the struggles they faced in their respective fields as women. 

The panelists discussed topics such as challenges for women in the professional world, relationships, following goals, how to negotiate as a woman and safety. 

Frantz, who currently teaches organic chemistry, discussed the lack of women in STEM fields. She said she was often intimidated but did not want to show it in order to display strength. 

“I majored in forensic chemistry, so I had done an internship at a police department and a coroner’s office,” Frantz said. “I was the sole female student in those programs. It was hard to get the same experience as my male counterparts.”

Moore also addressed the issue of the underrepresentation of women in professional fields. Moore is currently teaches at the McIntire School of Commerce but practiced as a lawyer for several years. She said the job interview process was not fair when she first started applying. 

“In interviews, they’d ask, ‘So, do you plan on having a family?’” Moore said. “Right, of course I was like, ‘No, the law is my family.’ Did they just ask the guy that was just in there? And of course you realize too that a lot of the top jobs went to guys, even though they were lower in class rank.” 

Moore said the solution for her was to make allies and work through the system. She eventually ended up getting a courtship. 

Gelsdorf discussed how men often have clear, straight career paths they can pursue while external obstacles may uniquely arise for women. Yet, she said there can be benefits to unexpected changes in one’s life path.

“Maybe a family member gets sick, and you’re the one who’s called to take care of them, or you get married and your husband’s job —  for some reason — takes precedence to yours. Or you have a child, and your child gets sick,” Gelsdorf said. “What that requires is for you to pivot to the side, but in that there’s this freedom and beauty and opportunity to have a really beautiful life.”

During the Q&A section of the panel, one attendee asked about how to negotiate as women in the workplace. Chou, who specializes in behavioral psychology, said women typically do not take risks and try to stay in a safe place instead of advocating for opportunities they should get. 

“If you are feeling insecure about your own negotiations, or you question whether or not it’s a situation where you can ask, don’t do it just for yourself,” Chou said. “Think about everyone else who you may be representing. So create your own internal ally and then go into the situation for negotiation.” 

Dave also said she thinks women should take risks and be ambitious as well as be adventurous. She said women should also make sure to be safe. 

“When I look back on my younger self, I can’t believe how cavalier I was about personal safety,” Dave said. “[I’ve had] some situations I really wish that I hadn’t had. I think when you’re younger, you kind of laugh it off, and you think it’s something you can joke about with your friends afterwards about the situation you were in. But sometimes, it crosses a line.” 

The professors shared instances in which they have been cautious for their own safety but still encouraged risk-taking, especially for women in terms of their education and career. 

Zarate said she hoped the event was rewarding for attendees.

“We believe that everyone had something to gain by listening to our panelists,” Zarate said. 

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