Minerva Peters, U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) chief of staff, once discussed some of her life experiences at a Woman’s Equality Day luncheon.
By turns poignant and inspirational, Peters recalled her childhood, the obstacles she faced getting a foothold in a male-dominated field of endeavor in her youth, and the success and joy she felt in her eventual positions at YPG, the first of which she began in 2000.
“I found the proving ground a great place for anyone to work,” she said. “It’s a very challenging organization where you are respected, whether female or male. The only thing they’re looking for is if someone is capable of doing the job, and I really like that.”
Peters’ road to success was difficult. When she was 10 years old, her father was severely disabled in a car accident, placing a significant hardship on the family. Peters credited her mother with keeping the family afloat.
“My mother, a 5’2” woman from Mexico who had married a U.S. citizen and knew very little English, always found a way to feed us, get us to school, and make it clear that our one and only priority was to succeed in school. It was a private demonstration of courage that she continued the rest of her life.”
Peters excelled in school, particularly in math, but encountered gender-based prejudice even from people whose supposed purpose was to facilitate her success.
“My high school guidance counselor straight-out told me, ‘people who are good at math usually are engineers, but you can’t be because you are a woman.’ That’s literally what she told me, and this was a female counselor. Why I couldn’t be an engineer, I don’t know, but I was a very obedient Hispanic girl: somebody in authority told me I couldn’t do something, therefore it must not be allowed.”
In college she earned a degree in mathematics, which made her eligible to be an operations research analyst. At that time, the Army’s Operational Test and Evaluation Command was making a specific effort to hire qualified female interns, and in 1985 Peters successfully applied for a position. In retrospect, however, the interview questions she fielded seem remarkably sexist.
“They asked questions like, ‘as a woman, how do you feel about working for an organization whose purpose is to acquire weapons systems for male Soldiers?’ Or, ‘as a woman, how are you going to handle the travel requirements in this job? How would you handle the situation if you got pregnant?’”
Though the national culture has evolved significantly in the decades since, Peters realizes cultural and familial obstacles remain that some young girls must face.
“Look for opportunities to learn,” she counselled. “If you are learning, eventually success will come. My main advice is to accept challenges. If a challenge is given to you, take it and do the best you can with it, because more than likely you will succeed. If you are being asked to do it, it is because people already have confidence in you—that applies to men, too.”