His View: By Chris Wilkie, CEO, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE)

Creating a Path For the Future of Latinas in STEM 

By Chris Wilkie, CEO, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) 

My name is Chris Wilkie, and I am the CEO of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, or as we like to call it, SHPE. Our mission is to bridge the gap between Hispanics and STEM. And you know all too well, that gap is even bigger when we start talking about Latinas and STEM.

Part of my job is to partner with purpose-driven leaders and corporate entities to advocate for increased diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). There is a need for a “for-Latinas, by-Latinas” approach to building a STEM identity in young Hispanic women. With that said, there is a critical place for allyship too.

I’ll be honest, over the last couple of years, DEI has become an easier sell. It’s the hot topic right now. However, I am wary of what is referred to as “diversity theater.” That’s when public-facing promises aren’t necessarily reflected with internal policies and practices.

So, I spend a lot of my time thinking about what it takes to be a true ally-leader and inclusive organization. I strive to ensure that SHPE’s own business culture can be a model for anyone looking to move beyond talking the talk, and start walking the walk.

The Talk – We value the unique perspective of women, and believe their contributions should exist at the highest levels of leadership.

The Walk – SHPE’s staff is made up of 75 percent women, and three of our five C-suite executives are female.

The Talk – We want to empower women towards a successful and meaningful career.

The Walk – We dedicate significant resources, financial and (wo)manpower, to supporting our SHPEtinas with programs that grow an equipped pipeline of Latina scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. 33 percent of SHPE’s membership represent Latinas.

The Talk – We understand and honor the work that women do in the office and at home.

The Walk – SHPE’s staff is given the ultimate flexibility to work remotely and build their own schedule based not only on their own needs, but the needs of their families.

The Talk – We believe in equal pay for equal work.

The Walk – All of SHPE’s positions are benchmarked against industry data to ensure equitable pay for all employees. Thus, gender has no place in influencing pay scales.

The Talk – We will listen to and empower women, acknowledging my experience cannot inform an understanding of theirs.

The Walk – I meet with my staff members throughout the week in a variety of settings to accommodate genuine feedback from individuals with different communication styles. Some are more comfortable sharing ideas with formal presentations. Some prefer a casual one-on-one over lunch. And, as a leader who trusts the expertise of their team members, I defer to their decision-making most of the time.

And so, to my fellow allies and advocates reading this today, I challenge you to consider in which ways your words about the inclusion of Latinas may not be lining up with your actions regarding actually empowering them. I challenge us all to do better, one step at a time.

Dr. Chris Wilkie has over 20 years of experience in the nonprofit industry, and is a subject matter expert in operational excellence, change management, nonprofit compliance, and research-based programming. Prior to SHPE, he was the AVP of Regulatory, Oversight, and Monitoring for SourceAmerica, a national nonprofit that creates employment opportunities for people with significant disabilities. He began his nonprofit executive career in public health, expanding his reach by becoming an entrepreneur: launching his own consulting company, working with county health departments, public independent school districts, and nonprofit organizations across Texas.