RICHMOND, Va. — Women innovators took the stage Thursday for a first-of-its-kind event in Virginia called “Women in Innovation.”
One of them was Dr. Trina Coleman. When you see her on the street, you may not realize she’s one of five African American women who are theorists in nuclear physics in the country.
While she was studying at Hampton University, Dr. Coleman’s professors encouraged her to focus classes on math and science. But, when she went into the workforce Dr. Coleman faced challenges.
“The microaggressions, the discrimination, the you’re not good enough. We don’t want you around and we don’t want you to breathe our air,” Dr. Coleman said. “Physics is already hard enough.”
Out of all five of the African American women with degrees like hers, Dr. Coleman says one only stayed in the field. She noted the field is dominated by white men and didn’t feel like she had a seat at the table. Dr. Coleman overcame this by paving her own path as a technology consultant and educator.
“I think that we should probably be the ones in the room,” she said.
The room Thursday was filled with women, eager to hear her and about a dozen other women share their stories, to encourage others to leap into science, technology, education and math fields as well as to be their own boss.
Some of these women worked in technology for major companies, overseeing drone projects. Another makes chocolate for a living and studies its chemical makeup.
“Innovation is not always just technology,” the Deputy Secretary of Administration Grindly Johnson said.
Deputy Secretary Johnson went to school when schools were still segregated.
“Education was always stressed, but what was not stressed was that women should be supporting women,” she said.
Members of Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration and VITA, which is essentially the Commonwealth’s IT department, came up with the “Women in Innovation” conference to highlight fields where women are the minority.
“They need to hear that other women are succeeding and that they are willing to help them,” Johnson said.
The Northam administration has put a focus on STEM fields, including new early childhood education initiatives to bring more computer science into the classroom. With big companies like Amazon making their home in Virginia, these women see a lot of potential in the workforce.
“Because we have a lot of talent here in the Commonwealth and we want more women to take advantage of these opportunities,” Dr. Coleman said.
Within 36 hours of the event being announced it was sold out. Organizers hope to hold it again next March during women’s history month.