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Women, non-white, first-gen students report less confidence in job prospects

Imposter syndrome, microagressions can contribute to feelings of isolation at work

Women, people of color and first-generation college students are less confident in their abilities to find a job in their chosen field in comparison to male, white and non-first-generation students, respectively, according to The Herald’s Fall 2017 poll.

While 8 in 10 male students reported feeling confident in their abilities to find jobs, 7 in 10 female students reported confidence. Of white students polled, 78.7 percent indicated they were confident, while all other racial groups reported lower confidence. Hispanic, black and Native American students indicated the lowest confidence with 66 percent, 65.8 percent and 50 percent, respectively. Of those who are not first-generation students, 77.5 percent reported that they are confident, while 56.8 percent of first-generation students are confident.

Students who are female, first-generation or non-white can face “concerns that aren’t shared among all students,” said Director of CareerLAB Matthew Donato, who found the results of the poll “not necessarily” surprising.


In fields such as business and finance, a lack of female role models can lead to many women feeling less confident about finding a job, said Gillian Lee ’18, president of Women in Business.

“Historically, (the business field) is a pretty male-dominated work force,” Lee said. “Especially in the senior levels, a very large percentage of (them) are male.” Lee also described the field as a “boys’ club,” making it harder for women to build a network of connections when finding a job.

Liesl Jaeger ’18, president of the Society of Women Engineers, has also found herself in male-dominated situations within the field of engineering, which “can be uncomfortable.” When being interviewed by mostly men for jobs, she has felt “like I had to prove myself to them,” Jaeger added. “It does make me feel a little bit more at ease if there’s at least one other woman in the room.”

To combat lower levels of confidence, many student groups on campus emphasize building a strong network.

Women in Business aims to help women develop the skills, confidence and networks to succeed, Lee said. “Having other women to talk with about your experiences is an invaluable resource,” she added. The group’s mentorship program between current students and female alums also helps women boost their confidence by giving students guidance from those who have successfully entered the field.

Student groups also provide a space for students to bond with others of similar backgrounds. For Jaeger, the Society of Women Engineers provides a supportive and comfortable space.

“A lot of the time, I don’t really feel comfortable in engineering spaces, and just having somewhere where you’re not fighting to be heard and fighting to be recognized is really, really important,” Jaeger said. “It’s just nice to show up and not feel like you’re in the minority.”

Despite already securing a job after graduation, Jaeger, at times, still feels less confident than her male peers. However, she and her peers remind themselves that they “all go to Brown, and that in itself makes you stand out,” Jaeger said. “You always have more experience than you’re giving yourself credit for.”


For underrepresented racial minorities, a lack of representation in the workforce can contribute to lower confidence, said Joy Aso ’19, chapter president of the National Society of Black Engineers. In technical jobs at companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft, black people make up 1 percent of technical workers, according to a 2016 New York Times article.

“If you’re the only one there, it can start to feel like you shouldn’t be there,” Aso said.

Ebube Chuba ’19, a member of Mosaic+ — a group that creates a space for underrepresented minorities in computer science — also found that imposter syndrome contributes to lower confidence.

“You don’t see many black people in certain roles,” Chuba said. “When you’re the only person or one of few people doing something for the first time, … you kind of feel like maybe they don’t think I’m good at this. Maybe they think I’m just here to fill a quota.”

“You take your perceived distrust of them into your distrust of yourself, and you start to doubt how well you can do,” Chuba added.

Microaggressions can also contribute to lower confidence levels for underrepresented minorities. Project partners not taking a student’s input seriously or teaching assistants assuming students know less than they do are just two examples of this, Chuba said.

Mosaic+ works to build members’ confidence through workshops and to reaffirm each other’s abilities through a strong support network, Chuba said.

For Chanel Johnson ’20, Mosaic+ boosts her confidence by providing opportunities to practice coding interviews, an integral part of the job-finding process. “You need that assurance and that support group in order to be successful,” she added.

The National Society of Black Engineers helps students with professional development and provides a support network for black engineers, Aso said. However, Aso wishes the engineering department would create a space for minority students to work together. “If you’re seeing people and you’re able to work together, … you’ll feel more confident to stay in the field,” Aso said.

First-Generation students

Unlike other Brown students, first-generation students encounter unique obstacles in their job search, such as concerns about networking, economic security and access to career resources.

Out of these obstacles, first-generation students seem to face the largest issues with networking, according to multiple people interviewed. “The word ‘networking’ feels a little contrived to most students,” said Associate Dean for First-Year and Sophomore Studies Yolanda Rome. “It feels kind of slimy.”

Programming for first-generation students tries to communicate to students that networking consists of “talking to people, not necessarily trying to get something out of them but just learning about their experiences,” Rome added.

“My parents are blue-collar workers. They don’t need to network for anything,” said Angel Mendez-Flores ’20, a first-generation student from Los Angeles. “They go to their job. They work hard and that’s all they do and go home.”

But students who come from families that do value networking arrive at Brown prepared to do the same. “I’ve seen students who … come in and they already have cancer research under their belt,” Rome said. When she asks how the student found the opportunity, the student responds, “Well my dad’s a physician, and his colleague had this lab and was able to give me (a position).” But for students who do not already have a network, those opportunities may not exist, Rome added.

Once students recognize the importance of networking, they can become confident in the job search. Mendez-Flores described how he felt more confident in his job prospects after a summer internship he secured by talking with people like his professors who shared his interest in politics. He plans to concentrate in political science.

“We’ve been trying to be more inclusive … in all different ways — CareerLAB, Writing Center, tutoring, financial aid,” Rome said.


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