by Beverly Aarons
Picture this: you’ve just got the job of your dreams — high pay, great benefits, and you’re doing exactly what you always wanted. But after a few months, you begin to notice some strange things. You’re never invited to lunch by your coworkers, people distrust you for no reason, and it seems that everyone loves your ideas but only if spoken by someone else. Sounds like a nightmare? It is a nightmare. And for many Women of Color working in STEM, this scenario is more daily reality than aberration. The good news? This reality is about to change. Lorena Soriano, the founder of every POINT ONE, PBC, is on a mission to consign exclusionary and hostile workplace cultures to the waste bin of history. During my telephone interview, Soriano, who lives in Seattle, shared her plans for creating a new reality in STEM.
For Soriano, it’s the little things that matter the most: the racial and gender diversity of photos on a company website, AI products designed for a variety of accents, and the feel of a room on a new employee’s first day. All these small things compound to create an overall welcoming (or unwelcoming) environment and can determine if diverse hires stay or leave.
“At every POINT ONE we are known for our tagline … ‘every 0.1% matters when you’re changing the stats in STEM to ensure we have an inclusive future,’” Soriano said.
Soriano’s vision for a more inclusive STEM community requires a heightened commitment to a company’s core values. Right now that level of commitment is rare. Her company has been working to level up and expand that commitment to core values.
“What we have seen in companies is that maybe one department out of the three that we focus on, they’re totally rocking,” Soriano said. “And they’re living, breathing, eating these values on a day-to-day basis. Personally, I have never seen a whole entire organization that has this. Maybe the executives do, but the rest of the company doesn’t feel that way.”
This inconsistency drives out diverse hires. People join the company because they believe in its values. But after a few months, they realize that the stated values are not a core part of the company’s identity. In a rough economy, Women of Color may feel pressured to stay on the job, but as soon as a better opportunity comes along, they jump ship. Low retention is costly. To replace one worker, employers shell out an average of $30,000. Soriano says that’s not the only cost.
“We are tight-knit communities,” Soriano said. “If you leave [a job], you’re going to talk and you’re going to share your experiences, especially in the world that we live in right now, where we’re all online, we’re all on social media. … Now we’re not afraid to call these companies out … Now people are actually saying, ‘Nope, this is what my manager did. This is what happened.’ … You’re now the company that people don’t want to go ahead and work at. And it’s going to cost you so much more money.”
Soriano, who spent six years working for Fortune 500 companies, wants to save businesses the money (and embarrassment) of failing to live up to their values. And she has an interesting solution: “values police.”
“They [values police] are the ones that are checking those values,” Soriano said. “That within this team, within this project, whatever it is — from the janitorial department all the way to the executive — that the values are being practiced and implemented. That is the number one thing.”
Some people might find the idea of a “values police” to be a bit too much — cancel culture on steroids. But Soriano made the point that when the everyday experience of working at a company fails to reflect its stated values, everyone loses. When banal hostilities such as sexist jokes and racist assumptions become part of the milieu in a company, these microaggressions are no longer small annoyances but festering wounds that can harm the STEM industry. As it stands, STEM worker demographics do not reflect the diversity of the American workforce. According to the census working paper The Intersectionality of Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin in the STEM Workforce, Black women make up 6% of the civilian workforce but only 2.2% of STEM workers. The numbers are worse for Hispanic women who make up 6.7% of the civilian workforce but only 1.7% of STEM workers. That’s not representation. And Soriano says that this lack of representation in STEM is having real-world impacts on what Girls of Color choose as a career.
“I was born in Mexico,” Soriano said. “But I pretty much grew up in Las Vegas. … I wanted to be a scientist and a doctor. The doctors on TV, they’re always the people that are helping other people, making the boo-boos go away and fixing them. And the scientists, they’re really just making really cool stuff — all the things [that] explode. However, growing up I never saw a Latina doctor, even though in Las Vegas we are very diverse. … And the closest thing that I had to a scientist was Bill Nye the Science Guy. So I didn’t have that representation. And I didn’t really think that that’s something that I could accomplish. So I did end up going the traditional business route.”
Soriano began working in the world of business in 2008. She was a high performer getting “promotion after promotion” she said. Then she began to have doubts about her career path. She asked herself, “Is this what the rest of my life looks like?” What she really wanted was to pursue her childhood dream and “change the world.” She eventually quit her job, and in 2014 she began studying biochemistry at the University of Nevada. She changed her personal Instagram handle to @girlchangetheworld, and in 2019 she launched every POINT ONE. She was redefining herself and rejecting society’s assumptions about her.
“I think the one thing I wanted to change [as a kid], is the way that the world saw me,” Soriano said. “We were immigrants … just by people seeing our name or knowing that I didn’t speak English, they already assumed where I was from and they put me into a box.”
If Soriano gets her way, the world will see her and other Women of Color in STEM as they really are, not as the world imagines them.
every POINT ONE can be found on Instagram.
Beverly Aarons is a writer and game developer. She works across disciplines as a copywriter, journalist, novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and short-story writer. She explores futuristic worlds in fiction but also enjoys discovering the stories of modern-day unsung heroes. She’s currently writing an immersive play about the themes of migration as well as a series of nonfiction stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their local communities and the world. In August 2018 she produced a live-action game and event where community members worked together to envision an economic future they truly desired to leave future generations.
Featured image: Lorena Soriano, courtesy of the University of Washington.