These Three Latinas Are Breaking Barriers in STEM

Latinas in STEM BELatina Latinx
Minerva Cordero, Pamela Padilla, and Manuela Murillo Sanchez.

The Hollywood cliché of the science club full of bespectacled males and pen cases has little truth to it — and we say little because one thing remains true: most students and professionals who dedicate their lives to the sciences tend to be men.

Even though women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, they represent only about 27% of STEM professionals and workers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Moreover, Latinos and blacks remain profoundly underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce, compared to their percentage of all workers.

According to a Pew Research Center report released last April, the gap in STEM workforce representation is especially large for Hispanic adults — making the gap for Latina women twice as wide.

While Latinos account for 17% of total employment across all occupations, they represent only 8% of all STEM workers. Their share of all STEM workers has increased 1 percent since 2016, in line with their growth in the overall workforce.

And although Hispanic or Latina women make up nearly 7 percent of the workforce, they represent just under 2 percent of all STEM workers nationwide, according to the Census.

But for Minerva Cordero, Pamela Padilla, and Manuela Murillo Sanchez, these numbers are just that: numbers. And their professions as science majors make them much more objective when it comes to beating a societal standard.

All three Dallas Latinas grew up in households where professions were genderless. Murillo Sanchez, for example, grew up inspired by her engineer parents to solve real-world problems through engineering, the Dallas News reported.

After Minerva Cordero and her three sisters finished dinner each night, they stayed at the table to do their homework and talk about their science classes.

Pamela Padilla said she got her interest in nature from her naturalist father and her artistic mother, creativity, and work ethic.

Today, these three pioneers are math and engineering majors, and part of their work is attracting women and minorities to STEM careers.

Cordero has also been honored in the #IfThenSheCan exhibit, a national initiative that hopes to shine a light on the female presence in this career field.

“If we help a girl in science, [then] she will be able to change the world,” Cordero explained.

“It’s really exciting to have such a public celebration of women in STEM,” said Murillo Sánchez about the #IfThenSheCan exhibit.

She emphasized the importance for young Latinas to find role models in other Latina women working in STEM in order to close the inequality gap in these fields of study.

“Fortunately, we’ve had some very strong female role models that are Latina, such as Ellen Ochoa and Diana Trujillo and their leadership in NASA,” she said.