Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Friday, March 26, 2021

By Stacy Braukman, Victor Rogers, Margaret Tate
Georgia Tech News Center

Breaking the glass ceiling isn’t just for high-profile political figures. At Georgia Tech, we have women who are making new strides in a wide range of male-dominated fields, at all levels. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we have asked a few of them to share their journeys and achievements, along with their advice for other women who hope to one day lead at Georgia Tech and in the broader community.

Christin Salley

Christin Salley

Ph.D. Student, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

What led you to your current position?

In high school I learned that engineers are the “behind the scenes” people of society that keep things moving. There’s nothing you can touch that an engineer wasn’t involved in somehow. I wanted to be in a career where I could help others in some capacity. I also got encouragement from family, friends, and mentors.

How are you breaking the glass ceiling?

One thing to point out is that it’s already been broken by women who came before and they’re the reason I’m able to be in this space. But I can continue to break the glass ceiling by pouring into the next generation and maintaining representation of women and underrepresented minorities in my field. I heard someone once say, "Don't die with a cup that's full, die empty from pouring into others." Once you’ve made it, your question should be, “Who’s coming after me?”

How does doing your part to break the glass ceiling tie into Georgia Tech’s strategic values?

My personal mission statement is to make a positive impact wherever I am led to serve. So, the Georgia Tech values that stand out to me the most pertain to excellence, diversity, and nurturing the well-being of the community. All the strategic values are important, but I feel like you need these three in order to have the others.

What are you doing to help lift other women through?

Aside from doing outreach and mentoring to uplift women, I try to leave my environment better than I found it for whoever comes after me. And then, hopefully, they can go further than I was able to go. I feel like, eventually, women in the field will not represent shattered ceilings. We’ll be the norm.

What advice do you have for other women who are dreaming big?

My first piece of advice is to remove the word “big,” because big is relative. Sometimes we get deterred if our dreams are what people would consider small or “not enough.” Just dream. Do what you want to do and know that you’re always more than capable of doing it. Do not let people label your dream or tell you how to do it.

Prerna Singh

Prerna Singh

Fourth Year Ph.D. Student, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Did you ever imagine yourself in this position?

Not as a kid. I come from a very small town in India. Even thinking about going outside the town to get educated was a big deal.

How does doing your part to break the glass ceiling tie into Georgia Tech’s strategic values?

I contribute to diversity, not just as a woman, but also as an international student, bringing the mindset of a woman from a different culture.

You were awarded the regional, then national WTS Maggie Walsh Leadership Legacy Scholarship — how has that validated your place as one of the only women in your Ph.D. program?

I never used to think I deserved something like that. And that showed that, maybe I undervalue myself. Even for this interview, I thought about recommending other women who are doing so much more than me. So maybe it’s not just me, but all women who undervalue themselves. This award made me realize that we should be more intentional about recognizing our self-worth.

How do you hope to lift other women through the glass ceiling?

It’s interesting that there’s about a 50-50 split between women and men in undergrad civil engineering at Georgia Tech, then a lot fewer women in grad school, and the percentage is almost negligible at the Ph.D. level. I would like to build an information channel starting in middle school for girls who have an interest in science but don’t pursue it further because of longstanding, preconceived notions against women in STEM. I also believe that both males and females should have a voice in legislation. If something is going to impact everyone, everyone should be in on making the decisions. I will work on bridging this gap in representation as well.

What advice do you have for other women venturing into male-dominated fields?

There’s a quote, “If it doesn’t scare you, you’re not dreaming big enough.” Every time I try to do something that’s not in my comfort zone, I use that to drive me. It’s okay to be scared — as long as that doesn’t stop you from doing it.

Read more stories of Georgia Tech women who are breaking the glass ceiling.