Appreciate diversity. I try to surround myself with people who think and see things differently than I do. I believe that people of different ages with different experiences, qualities, and talents complement each other and enrich my experience as a leader.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Roz Iasillo.Roz is a passionate and accomplished educator and administrator bringing 30+ years experience to Secondary Education. She is devoted to bridging the gender gap in careers, curriculum development, faculty/staff directives, and developing school policies.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Sure, to be honest, I entered this career path because I was asked. My university degrees are in Biology and Chemistry. I had been working in laboratories for about five years when a friend, an assistant principal, told me she thought I would make a great teacher. Coincidentally, her school needed someone to teach Biology, Health, and Physical Education. I had no training in education, but I said yes. That was 35 years ago and I don’t regret the decision for a minute.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I’m sure that there are many “Dr. Roz” stories out there, but for me the most interesting has been embarking on the STEM journey at Trinity High School in River Forest, IL. It has been so interesting to develop a program and watch our students embrace the challenges and become empowered young women.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Day 1 of my teaching career I brought the lunch I packed to school. I made sure to grab a can of soda from the refrigerator that held various drinks. It was located under the stairs in the back of the house. Lunch time comes and I go to the teacher’s dining room looking for a friendly table to join. I see a rather full table, but decide to join it. I’m standing at the table, unpacking my lunch bag while introducing myself. Each teacher’s face looked back at me in horror. Finally, one person said to me, “You do know that you can’t consume alcohol on the job?” I looked down and saw that I had taken a can of beer from the fridge and not a can of soda. This taught me to do everything mindfully and with the lights on.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The influence of the women’s movement in the 1970s, modified Trinity’s already solid college preparatory curriculum to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing society. Trinity’s tradition of academic excellence continued with the introduction of the prestigious International Baccalaureate Diploma program or the IB program. The IB program encompasses a rigorous pre-university course of studies designed as a two-year curriculum covering six academic areas. Block Scheduling, a new type of scheduling based on the collegiate model, was begun. Instead of seven or eight courses per day, the Block Schedule allows students to take three to four intensive courses per semester as is the normal course of studies in college. Over the school year, they may earn eight full credits without the stress of handling eight courses at one time. Students are required to earn a minimum of twenty-eight credit hours before graduation.
Trinity anticipated the new millennium by updating their technology tools. The Computer Center was renovated and a state of the art Technology Center was completed. The technology tools now offered to students allow them to give powerful expression to their learning and enable them to explore vast new worlds. We all became connected to people, events and information around the world.
Trinity remains a single-gender school, Trinity affirms its commitment to the needs of young women, challenging and preparing them to be tomorrow’s leaders. Our graduates have been and will continue to be innovative, productive and leading members in all aspects of our society. The lessons they have learned at THS have helped them build successful careers, loving families and better communities. The Trinity community charges its students and faculty to think, work and play with the exuberance and energy that motivated many dedicated women to see a dream become a reality.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, in the Fall we installed beds for an Inspiration Garden and plants for our Pollinator’s Garden. We also procured rain barrels to collect the water that will nourish our gardens. In the spring we will plant the crops in the Inspiration Garden. Once harvested, this food will be donated to people who live in food deserts.
We are also researching bees and beehives. The girls would like to build and install beehives on our campus. The honey could go to people who truly need it, but lack the funds to purchase it.
Trinity High School is proud to be chosen to be a part of the Amazon Future Engineer program. AFE is a comprehensive program that will inspire and educate our young women to pursue careers in computer science. Amazon Future Engineer offers funding for computer science related courses and this initiative has allocated $50 million for programs that encourage and enlist underserved or underrepresented students in computer science.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I am not happy with the status quo regarding women in STEM. Understanding the impact of STEM on women and engaging women to address the issues — as innovators and decision-makers — is critical.
Simply put, diversity, both inherent and acquired, helps drive innovation. We know from research that diverse teams are more effective at problem solving, when different voices, viewpoints, expertise and life experiences are brought to bear.
Globally, women are under-represented in STEM. In the U.S., 80 percent of STEM jobs are in engineering and computer science but women comprise only 12 percent of the engineering workforce and 26 percent of the computing workforce. In both academic and practical STEM environments, we need to cultivate ways of tackling science and technology problems that are inclusive, not exclusive, and that highlight the impact of STEM on real world problems. This helps to interest women in STEM, which can address gaps in technology design and usability.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
There are several challenges women in STEM face that their male counterparts don’t have to face. First, Women drop off at every stage throughout the STEM journey, whether in elementary school, high school, university, or in the workplace. Women who remain can be isolated. An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study found that while 15 year-old boys and girls are fairly even in terms of science aptitude, girls have less confidence in their abilities. Girls drop out because of a confidence gap, not an ability gap.
Secondly, women must pay attention to their biological clocks. Once hired, just as in other fields, women may not be encouraged to pursue higher level jobs by their employers and the time constraints also can become pervasive as women enter child-bearing years.
Thirdly, girls must “see it to be it.” Boys/men have this in place. STEM fields are broad and varied. Currently, within STEM, young women gravitate to healthcare, medicine, education, arts, and humanities, while young men gravitate towards engineering, computer science, math and physics. Young women need access to information about all types of STEM possibilities and the women who have succeeded in those careers. The media often does not cover these women and as a result women’s career trajectories are less visible. It is up to parents and teachers to encourage young women and girls to consider STEM careers, in order to break gender norms and change stereotypes.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
There are quite a few myths about women in STEM that I would like to dispel.
- Women can’t successfully balance being in a STEM field and having a family. I know that many successful women in STEM have positive family experiences even though working women are still expected to take primary responsibility for home & parenting roles.
- Women are inferior to men in STEM fields. I know that ability is equal.
- Women are naturally more interested in care giving occupations (medicine, nursing, teaching) I know that interest will vary. However, interest is also socially influenced. Girls have to “see it to be it.”
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- I appreciate everything that comes my way. I am not the leader I am today because I am not grateful. Thanking and appreciating others has helped me immeasurably over the years.
- Wisdom and humility go hand in hand. My grandmother and mother have always stressed to be kind to people and treat them the way I would want to be treated. I have tried to never put myself above others in any situation.
- Make time for reflection. Each day before going to sleep, I run through the days positive and negative experiences. Then I plan how to make each better.
- Appreciate diversity. I try to surround myself with people who think and see things differently than I do. I believe that people of different ages with different experiences, qualities, and talents complement each other and enrich my experience as a leader.
- Work hard to achieve a shared vision. I try to calculate the potentials, the risks, and the effort needed. I know that I will be judged against actual deeds and fulfilled promises. I don’t promise too much as unfulfilled promises work against me and people who counted on them will leave my organization.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Don’t give up. Your organization needs you. Your perspective is important.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
See the above two questions.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I grew up in a matriarchy. I learned from my grandmother and mother to work hard and to show up. They used to say, “If you can’t fall asleep, you aren’t working hard enough.” I sleep soundly every night. They encouraged me to be a doer. Miracles will not happen on their own. I was encouraged to find the right people for the job. My grandmother would say, “If you lay with dogs, you’ll get fleas.” I realized that I would not be able to do anything as a leader unless I had the people I needed working with me. Ultimately, it is my responsibility to make sure a great team is in place. Only then can I begin delegating responsibilities, managing direction, and getting people to work better together.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I teach people to love, be competent and bring goodness to the world. I take great pride in all the good done by women that I have taught.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Increase the education level of women around the world. This will help lower the world’s fertility rate. But, we must listen to women. Their perspective is unique. I would try to inspire people to eat lower on the food chain. You needn’t be vegan, just eat 25% of the time on the first trophic level. Grazing animals will ultimately lead to less food and water. Of course, my movement would also include access to clean drinking water in every community and in every country in our world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“To whom much is given, much is expected.” This made me grateful and always wanting to do more for others. My life is privileged. It is my call, my absolute need to do more for others. My mother would say, “Don’t rest in the middle of something. Plenty of time to rest at the end.” So true.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to share a meal with MacKenzie Bezos. She has the resources and I have the Women in STEM vision. I would love the opportunity to convince her to begin a STEM Foundation for Women. I would love to manage it for her. We both strongly believe in the value of giving to others. There is so much good that we can do together.Authority Magazine