Dr. Maricela Becerra is a college professor and 2021 Lenovo Innovator. She wrote the following article.
As I reflect on my experiences as a Latina immigrant, first-generation everything, and mother in academia, it’s hard not to focus on the many barriers I’ve encountered along the way. For a while, I did not tell anyone I had a kid because I did not want them to judge me. And when I finally did, a professor in my PhD program told me not to even think of having more children if I wanted to complete my degree. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only hardship I’ve had to face – when sharing my plans of pursuing a doctoral degree with a professor, I was told I was “too ambitious” and needed to have more realistic goals.
The reality is, things like this happen often. One of the things they often don’t tell you about “breaking the glass ceiling” is that you will spend the rest of your career fighting the debris. However, it’s important to acknowledge the barriers we face as we continue to break the bias and create more equitable and supportive spaces.
Women Empowering Women
One thing that pushed me to share my story on social media was precisely the women in my life who supported my journey. I have been fortunate to have Latina professors who inspired me to become one myself. I have also been lucky to encounter working mothers who have shown me it is possible to have a healthy work-life balance. I am now able to empower women because other women took the time to empower me.
Despite having this representation in my life, I have come to realize that it is not the norm. Less than 1% of Latinas get a PhD, and these women hold less than 3% of tenure track positions in the U.S. The numbers tell me there is still a lot of work to do. Through my presence online and the wide reach of technology, I hope I can be an inspiration for more Latinas that want to pursue a similar path.
Getting Social on Women in Higher Education
When I set out to create a platform to empower other Latina women, it was important I acknowledge my own power. The thing about others doubting you constantly, is that you start to believe them. The first time my own femtor (a female mentor) referred one of her students to me for advice, I doubted my abilities to help. I remember meeting with the student and referring her to a colleague of mine – I said, “I have a homegirl that can help!”. I proudly used, and still continue to use, the amazing network of empowered women I have met along the way. Because here’s another thing they don’t tell you about breaking the glass ceiling: you don’t have to do it alone.
The reality is we can, and should, lean on those around us to provide a helping hand. This is the approach I have taken with developing my social media platform and when creating new initiatives over the years. My network and I are a group of Academic Homegirls who use the power of community and connection to help each other.
I remember wanting to create a scholarship fund for student moms, so I reached out to small businesses I met online and raised funds with the support of my community. When I came across other scholarship funds I wanted to support, I developed a brand to empower Latinas in higher education that also contributes to these efforts. And I have technology to thank for the many resources and connections I have been able to make.
Technology helps us create the spaces we are often denied – for us and for others. It allows anyone, anywhere to access educational materials, network, and develop the necessary confidence to succeed in a career in education.
I have felt empowered to take all the space I can. I hope to inspire other women while rewriting society’s definition of what a Latina mother and professor looks like.
To be part of my continued journey as a femtor and #LenovoInnovator, follow me on Instagram (@academicmami). Together we can #BreakTheBias.