UCCS faculty and staff share experiences as women in the workplace

On March 7, the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hosted an event centered around women in the workplace with a focus on women in higher education.

The event was hosted by the DEI Education and Outreach team as part of their ongoing series of monthly events known as “DEI Munch and Learn.” This event had a panel of five female members of faculty and staff at UCCS who shared insights into their lives and careers.

Yvonne Wu — assistant professor and music program co-director

Yvonne Wu feels that her leadership style is adaptable and responsive to the people she’s with, which can be a strength, as she recognizes when to take charge and when to step back.

However, Wu said she feels sometimes she discounts herself as a leader. “As a female, I’m maybe adjusting too much or I’m too prone to quiet myself depending on who else is in the room,” Wu said.

Wu wants to speak up for herself and others but struggles to feel valid in doing so because of the gender roles pushed on her. “There’s always this negotiation of ‘am I silencing myself or am I being silenced?’” Wu said.

She shared the struggles she felt as a mom of two kids, how she takes their needs into careful consideration regarding her career. Wu emphasized the importance of being prepared for uncomfortable moments in the workforce and being willing to push back in moments when feeling disempowered.

She explained that women tend to pick up responsibilities ensuring smaller details are provided, or reaching out to colleagues or clients, and how the labor quickly piles up.

Wu has dealt with this in her own career. “Here’s the kind of unfortunate part that I get really tortured about. Is it my job doing that to me, or am I doing that to myself?” Wu said.

Nicole Simmons-Rochon — programs director of DEI programs and resources

Nicole Simmons-Rochon does not equate leadership to a title, but rather with the capacity to lead. Her leadership style is focused on mentorship and meeting others where they are to help them grow.

Simmons-Rochon spoke on how her experiences at a historically Black university affected her worldview.

“I have been taught, socialized — it has been embedded — that the world could not turn if I did not speak, if I did not breathe or exist. That is very counter to a lot of persons that also hold my identity,” Simmons-Rochon said.

Simmons-Rochon said she could not relate to the experience of imposter syndrome, rather, she faces the expectation of being a role model. “I was only taught that I have to belong because there are other people who need you to. And that has built my platform of who I am,” Simmons-Rochon said.

Simmons-Rochon emphasized the importance of having strong role models that shared her identity at a young age.

She advocated for women to know their worth and walk away from jobs that do not pay them industry standards or a salary equal to their experience. “As a woman, remember that you are priceless,” Simmons-Rochon said.

For men who want to act as allies for women, she believes the most important thing they can do is hold each other accountable.

“Holding people accountable doesn’t always feel good, and you may be the only one that’s speaking up but know that you are being a part of the change,” Simmons-Rochon said.

Catherine Barrios — career coach at T. Rowe Price Career Center

Catherine Barrios emphasized the importance of everyday leadership, particularly the empowerment of others. “I often like to collaborate with different individuals and give them the opportunity to get their voices heard. Everyone has something to contribute and it’s so important to hear different perspectives,” Barrios said.

Barrios often felt the pressure to adapt to environments that were not made for people of her intersecting identities. She had to learn to take up space as a woman of color.

Barrios felt a unique pressure to succeed as the first person in her family to do a lot of things — go to school, graduate and pursue higher education. She honors those opportunities by investing in students who are in the same position she was in as a career coach.

“Being of color and being a woman — and there are many other identities that I hold — really makes me think a lot about how to make our environment more inclusive, more welcoming,” Barrios said.

Sarah Long — assistant dean and director of student affairs for the College of Education

Sarah Long believes that leadership revolves around advocacy. “It’s around saying the hard things that you’re not quite sure if you should say or not, but that kind of need to be said, and recognizing the needs of others and wanting to work with people,” Long said.

She overcomes feelings of imposter syndrome by the importance of education as a credential. “When you exist in a space and you have that education, it just qualifies you for so much more than you think,” Long said.

For anyone struggling in college, Long wants them to know it gets so much better as you get older.

She also encourages everyone to take risks, especially the ones that feel big and scary, because they pay off.

Nancy Hernandez — Director of pre-collegiate support and student success

Nancy Hernandez expressed feeling like an imposter when she was in college because she didn’t come from the same social background as her peers. “I would cry because I felt like I’m an impostor. I’m a loser. Like what am I doing here?”

Hernandez realized she felt out of place because higher education was not made for women or people of color, it was made by and for white men.

“Of course, we feel out of place because we didn’t create this place. I’m not an impostor, I’m an improver. I’m here to make this place better,” Hernandez said.

She believes the most important skill you can invest in is getting involved and advocating for your beliefs. “Get involved in the decision-making of whatever you’re doing. You don’t want people making decisions for you; you want people making decisions with you,” Hernandez said.

Left to right: Yvonne Wu, Nicole Simmons-Rochon, Sara Long, Catherine Barrios, Nancy Hernandez. Photos courtesy of UCCS.