AWIS Chapter Spotlight – Boston Massachusetts
The AWIS Boston Massachusetts Chapter received the 2022 AWIS Shooting Star Award for Inclusive Leadership Development. Their efforts included creating an LGBTQ+ Affinity Group focused on community building, ally education, and highlighting LGBTQ+ voices. To keep diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) front of mind in programming, the chapter also established a full DEI committee within their executive board. Below is an article originally published in AWIS Magazine by Kathy Nevola, PhD, founder and leader of the LGBTQ+ Affinity Group.
In the summer of 2020, I was focused on defending my thesis, finding a job, and doing everything I could to move away from graduate school and into “the real world.” I was so excited, and I thought I was prepared, and perhaps I was from a technical-skills standpoint. However, I was worried about separating from my support system. I was starting something completely new, and this was the first time I would be entering a new environment as my authentic self. I was nervous about being the only nonbinary person and about not knowing other queer people at the company. My mind flashed back to the invasive questions I had been asked when I had come out in the past, to the pain of being misgendered, and to the fear of doing this alone.
My fear didn’t last long. Two months before my defense date, Katie Hughes reached out to me. She knew that I was graduating, looking for a job, and looking for support. She suggested that I consider participating in a mentoring circle run by the AWIS chapter in Boston (“MASS AWIS”). I was concerned about joining a “women’s group” as a nonbinary person. Katie reassured me that the mentoring groups are open to everyone, and so I decided to give it a try, and ended up joining an amazing group. During this time, my mentors were incredibly supportive in helping me navigate the transition to industry. At the end of our time together, I thought back to how I almost hadn’t joined because I was afraid that AWIS wouldn’t be an environment that a nonbinary person like me could be involved. I was so relieved that I had accepted the advice.
I knew I wasn’t the only queer person out there who was yearning for connection with others in the LGBTQ+ community and nervous about how to find it. LGBTQ+ individuals in STEM are more likely than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts to experience social marginalization and harassment in their workplaces, to have limited career opportunities, and to have their professional expertise devalued by their colleagues.
My career counselor, Sarah Cardozo Duncan, connected me with Dr. Joanne Kamens, founder of MASS AWIS and current member of the AWIS Board of Directors. We spoke about my desire to create an LGBTQ+ affinity group. We put together a pitch document (with the help of many others) and presented it to the chapter board. Now, almost one year later, the MASS AWIS LGBTQ+ Affinity Group has over 30 people on our mailing list, has had several virtual meetups, and has cosponsored 2 events with guest speakers.
Our overall goal in creating this group was to create a supportive place for LGBTQ+ individuals in the STEM fields to experience professional development, community building, and mentorship as well as to highlight voices and experiences from within the LGBTQ+ community. Our meetups give participants the chance to discuss critical LGBTQ+ issues like mental health and self-advocacy, to build connections, and to celebrate each other. Our meetings also provide opportunities for advocates, allies, and aspiring allies to listen and learn about LGBTQ+ experiences.
The MASS AWIS LGBTQ+ Affinity Group is a space for anyone who feels that they can benefit from it. While we created the group to benefit LGBTQ+ people in STEM fields, we welcome anyone who is interested in our programming. Regardless of your gender identity, field of study, sexual orientation, or stage of career, if you align with our mission or are interested in learning more, we encourage you to join us. Many of our events are remote, allowing for participation from across the country. This space has so much potential and so much value to bring, and we are just getting started. If you are interested in learning more about the affinity group, sign up for our mailing list here.
Kathy Nevola (they/them) received their PhD from Tufts University in Cellular, Molecular, and Developmental Biology with a concentration in Bioinformatics. They currently work as a Data Scientist and Tool Owner at Olink Proteomics. Kathy is passionate about mental health, DEI, and giving others the opportunity to shine. In their free time they enjoy playing with their dog and cat, rock climbing, doing yoga, and playing video games.
This article was originally published in AWIS Magazine. Join AWIS to access the full issue of AWIS Magazine and more member benefits.