The Women in Housing series is a month-long project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Kathryn Magura.
I am a technology person. I am good with software and computers. I excel with making information systems work for my business needs.
If you told me 20 years ago that my professional self would ever write those three sentences above, I probably would have laughed at you. How could that possibly be the case when I was not good at math or computers? In high school and college, I avoided math and computer classes whenever possible. I took the lowest level of math necessary to ensure I met my degree requirements. Also, because I went to college in the 90s, computer classes were optional, which meant I took a hard pass on them.
As I reflect on my past experiences, I cannot pinpoint a particular time or instance in which I determined that I was not good at math or computers. I was an early Internet adopter and got good grades in my math classes, but for some reason I always felt like I was not good with either subject. I certainly couldn't do anything professionally that required me to be good at either of those things! I suppose the fact that I never had any female mentors in either of these subjects pushing me to think past my limitations did not help. How could I see myself excelling at something I don't see anyone like me doing?
In college I worked in our housing office, and got to help with housing assignments one summer. I quickly learned how to use our information system and developed strategies for maximizing our assignments process. What surprised me most was how much I enjoyed it. Imagine that. I tried something I purposely avoided for years and found out that I was damn good at it!
There are many times at work when I am the only woman in a room of men. Most of the time, this happens when I am in some sort of technology meeting. Every time, I look around the room and am very cognizant of the fact that I am the only woman present. Part of me feels like I am representing all other women when I'm in those meetings and feel added pressure to ensure I am adequately representing myself in the room. I have been ignored in those meetings and written off as not being knowledgeable on a topic. I have been talked over and dismissed. But I always make sure my voice is eventually heard. Over time, I have developed a reputation on my campus and in my profession as someone who is quite knowledgeable and therefore respected. It has been an uphill battle for sure, but I am grateful to be a woman leading this charge.
I've now been working in housing operations for almost 15 years and continue to look for ways to utilize technology to enhance the customer service experience on a college campus. Over the years I have had the opportunity to supervise other women (students and professional staff) who also doubted their skills in technology. I have worked hard to be the mentor to them I wished I'd had when I was younger. You don't know if you are good or bad at something until you actually give it a try, right? Why is that women in particular seem to internalize these feelings of inadequacies without giving ourselves the chance to shine?
Kathryn Magura is the assistant director for operations at University Housing and Dining Services at Oregon State University. Kathryn specializes in occupancy management and housing operations, and recently wrapped up her presidential term for NWACUHO. Kathryn enjoys reading, writing, drinking wine, running, and being a music snob. Follow her on twitter at: @kmagura.