For Women’s History Month, Tracy Chou served as a guest speaker at the Fourth Annual Luncheon hosted by JJC at the Patrick Haley Mansion.
The event was also sponsored by ExxonMobil in partnership with JJC and Joliet Township High School. This marked the first time the event was held at the Patrick Haley Mansion, a venue that has hosted weddings and other ceremonial events in the past.
At noon, introductions came from several prominent women in the community.
These women included JJC President Judy Mitchell, ExxonMobil Joliet refinery manager Monica Mainland and Joliet Township High school Superintendent Cheryl McCarthy.
McCarthy started intros with a moment of reflection, recognition and providing the purposes for these community meetings. “Let’s reflect on all the women that have come before us that have fought hard to give us the opportunities we have.”
Chou would then later take the podium. Chou is a software engineer who graduated from Stanford University, and has been known as advocate for diversity in the tech field.
She also has prior work experience in companies like Quora, Pinterest, Google and Facebook.
Having gone through her major in college, she described her experiences in the field as intimidating and at times feeling like she “had to catch up,” especially with a majority of the people she worked with being men.
“The first major reflection point for me was when I realized the world now is not the way it has to be,” said Chou.
Accompanied by a power point slide, Chou collected data from tech companies and several other sources in order to demonstrate the gender disparity and diversification of her field, and how it can be improved.
She believes much of the exclusivity and almost male-dominated field could only be changed through advocacy, while enduring pain and opposition that she believes is only slowing down the progress.
“Maybe you have heard the phrase death by a thousand paper cuts,” said Chou, “which describes experiences in suffering through all the little fights, being patronized, being overlooked, being underestimated, being left out. None of which may not be bad by themselves, but repeated over and over again can drive people out.”
Besides describing these gender gap issues, Chou called for the need of diversity in general, which could mean allowing meetings in companies to allow those who had not contributed before a chance to open up.
After her presentation, she took questions from the audience.
One question in particular was on comments on President Donald Trump. Although not direct, Chou did see his “normalization” of misogyny and mistreatment of women harmful.
People at the meeting included several students from Joliet Central High School, who were led by a sponsor of the honors group Mr. and Ms. J, Linda Bowers.
Six girls from the school were invited to the luncheon.
“From her [Chou] speech, I really got this vibe that leadership, especially from women, is not just a position of authority, but it is also an act of influence,” said Vanessa Flores, one of the students, “so seeing her just present and all that really taught me that it’s not about getting that position, but also influence other women to join the movement and get them to actually step out of their comfort zone.”
“I like how she made connections to the older generations and the younger generations,” said Nisa Theard, another student.
Bowers also highlighted how Chou had done a great job of describing diversity as “not just seeing it as ‘either, or,’ but always as an ‘and.’”
“It’s not a competition between people of color,” said Bowers, “the genders, it’s always an ‘and’ where we build each other up and bring out our strengths.”
Several of these women also provided their dreams and aspirations that they feel were strengthened from the meeting.
“I want to major in English and theater education, and I want to come back to Joliet to teach,” said Abby Augustine, another student from Joliet Central High School.
Aubree Smith, a senior at Joliet Central High School hopes to pursue nursing, but has considered changing her focus in political science, hoping to one day be president.
Although it was the first time many of these students attended such a community event, they do feel it is very important in having these discussions.
“I feel it’s important because women shouldn’t be looked at just only doing certain jobs,” said Veronica Briceno, a senior at Joliet Township High School. “They should be able to do whatever they want to do.”
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