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IWD: Women in tech share their advice for those wanting to work in STEM

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

It’s International Women’s Day (IWD), so we asked a selection of women to share their best advice for those considering a career in stem. Read their responses below.

WHAT WOULD BE THE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE FOR WOMEN OR GIRLS WANTING TO WORK IN STEM?

Elizabeth Seward, Head of Space Strategy at BAE Systems

Elizabeth Seward, Head of Space Strategy at BAE Systems: “To put it simply, find your friends. In work life, this is called networking but really it is getting to know people from different places, making friends, and staying in touch so you can bring the best out of each other.

It’s something that resonates through careers from early on, starting at school and then through work or university, you’ll meet people who are interested in the same things as you and by working together you can all move forwards. When they require it, help them out and make sure to stay in touch, that way when you need help you’ll have a community of people you trust to ask.”

Jude Kelzi, Cyber Security Apprentice at Thales

Jude Kelzi, Cyber Security Apprentice at Thales: “Believe it or not, I started out wanting to be a vet! But a career in technology was always on my mind as my Dad works as Software Architect. I wasn’t aware of cyber security as an industry, and that a career in this area was a possibility; I went to an all-girls school and it wasn’t commonly talked about. However, amidst the WannaCry attacks on the NHS, we had someone come into our school to give a talk – from that point on I was very intrigued and wanted to explore the subject further.

At the time there wasn’t anything for beginners in this industry, but I found out about a competition called ‘CyberStart’ that involves partaking in cyber-related challenges and puzzles that increase in complexity as you progress. I’ve taken part for 3 years in a row, making it to the final stage in all three. I recommend looking out for opportunities like this, as well as considering apprenticeships if you’re starting your career. It’s a great alternative route to get into a STEM career; it’s a more practical programme so you can get hands-on experience in the business whilst also studying for professional qualifications.”

Ayshea Robertson, People & Culture Director at Zen Internet

Ayshea Robertson, People & Culture Director at Zen Internet: “Addressing the lack of female representation in STEM careers requires efforts on multiple fronts – whether it’s initiatives like Step into Tech programmes such as the ones we run at Zen, or mentoring schemes for young women in schools. Essentially, we need to make career advice and support more easily accessible, which can open opportunities for young women to explore what a career in IT could be like.

Changing how tech is taught in schools is another crucial factor if we’re to close the tech industry gender gap. Many tech companies and large employers already have close working relationships with further education establishments, and this is something that should be encouraged to provide a means of sharing real-life advice and experiences.

As well as these early interventions, there is also a great deal that technology employers themselves can be doing. Re-designing roles so they are more suited to retaining female talent and don’t have an unconscious bias in them can be effective. Retention also comes from creating spaces for support, discussion, and mentoring. Network support groups such as our Women in Tech network at Zen, can help people feel comfortable in sharing and addressing specific issues they may be facing. They can also provide a means to start acting as a collective and apply pressure to create changes in areas like the gender pay gap.”

Billie Sequeira, a Former Apprentice, Engineering Technician, and now Sustainability Executive at BAE Systems

Billie Sequeira, a Former Apprentice, Engineering Technician, and now Sustainability Executive at BAE Systems: “Try not to feel confined by the archetypal stereotype of people who work in STEM. If you love STEM, there’s something for you. In Engineering alone, there is a huge range of opportunities and subject fields to work within, and I truly believe there is something for everyone. Recognise and pursue your passions, and be your authentic self throughout. There are resources that can help you find your niche: careers advisors, recruitment teams, and Google! We need more women, and people from diverse backgrounds, in STEM. Don’t be afraid to look past the stereotypes and be a part of the change.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK NEEDS TO BE DONE TO ENCOURAGE MORE WOMEN AND GIRLS INTO YOUR FIELD?

Seward: “It comes back to the normalisation of what we see in our everyday lives, it needs to be seen as ordinary to study and have a career in STEM subjects. We’ve come a long way since I was at school and this has enabled a lot of talented women to have important STEM roles but there is still sometimes a view that science and engineering are for boys and that’s just not true.  It’s so much fun working in STEM particularly for me in Space at a time when our eyes are fixed on new horizons and new possibilities, we just need to make sure those eyes represent all of us to the fullest extent because everyone should be able to do it if they want to.”

Sequeira: “The approach to encouraging women and girls should be different. For girls, we need to see more representation and role models at an early age. The images I saw at the school of Engineers, Mathematicians, Scientists, etc. were all of white men. You don’t need to explicitly hear ‘STEM is for boys’ to create the perception that these subjects are for boys/men. As the saying goes, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’. Increasing the visibility of women in STEM, mentoring and championing women role models, alongside greater access to work experience opportunities, internships and taster days will help. In my experience, I was stuck on what career path to take but seeing the work environment and products in real life during a Taster Week at BAE Systems was what solidified my choice that Engineering was the best career path for me.

For women who may have worked in other fields, stressing the value of transferrable skills is important. STEM relies on a number of skills, and many of these are used in other areas of work: problem solving, creativity, critical and analytical thinking, teamwork, and more. Greater flexibility and maintaining a work/life balance is increasingly important to women and men alike; allowing employees the flexibility and time to spend with their family and friends or those with disabilities/illnesses some time to rest is important, and ultimately leads to a happier, more diverse workforce.

Much work goes into recruiting women and girls into STEM, but it’s important to focus on creating and ensuring an inclusive environment so they remain working in STEM too. Ensuring women and girls continue to be happy, supported and fulfilled in their STEM roles by supporting people from a range of backgrounds will maintain progression and help to improve the gender stereotypes naturally, through word of mouth.”

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