Dare to dream and then go for it with everything you’ve got. When mistakes and failures happen along the way, as they will, learn to pick up the pieces and swiftly move on. There is no male or female brain when it comes to getting into the STEM field. – says Gladys Maina, an information and communication technology (ICT) professional and mentor in Kenya, and we couldn’t agree more.
Gladys is a successful woman in STEM. She offers mentorship programs for high school students who would like to join the STEM field as their chosen career. As a seasoned moderator and speaker, she volunteers for speaking engagements, panel moderation and discussions with a bias in diversity, inclusion and equality in technology. She has agreed to talk to us about her career path, inspirations and ideas on how to improve the situation of women in STEM.
What do you like about your job?
The way STEM has revolutionized our lives and continues to create a difference in the society. STEM is all about solving problems and the beauty of it all is that you can be as wildly creative as you would like. No day is similar to the other.
Why have you decided to pursue a career in this field? What was your inspiration?
I have a curious mind and when I was growing up, I had hoped that the career I get into would fulfill this need as well as create a difference in society. I am happy that STEM allows me to realize this.
Do you have role models?
Yes. I have several of them. Here in Kenya, I look up to our very own Professor Wangari Maathai who was a lone voice in the wilderness that saved Uhuru Park. The park, which is located west of Uhuru Highway in the very heart of Nairobi, is the equivalent of Hyde Park in London and Central Park in New York City. It’s pathways, boating lake, and trees provide millions of Kenyans with a natural environment for recreation, gatherings and quiet walks. She solely stopped the government from building a skyscrapper and we now get to enjoy Uhuru Park.
She also christened a corner of the park, Freedom corner, which has been used severally by Kenyans to air their grievances and hold vigils.
Did you have a turning point in your career?
Yes. When I discovered how very few women pursue STEM as a chosen career, I decided to do something about it. That is why I got involved with African Women in Technology (AWIT), Google TechMakers as well as Women in Tech Africa (WiTA).
Through African Women in Technology, I have been very fortunate to meet industry leaders and attend several technology awareness events.
What do you think is one example of one way you have enjoyed your human rights, in learning or at work?
Learning to speak up has been a great example that I have enjoyed my human rights at the workplace. It has been motivated by the STEM women who have come before me, paved the way and shown that this can be done. I am excited that women have now been accorded freedom of speech and can be listened to.
Are there any challenges facing women in your educational or work settings, and if so, what do you see as one possible solution?
The shortage of female mentors has been quite a challenge. People like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are regularly talked about and idolized, yet there are fewer women in the spotlight. This is changing through the numerous #womenintech awareness and #mentorship programmes, but we still need to do more.
Another challenge is the stereotypes that exist, stating that STEM is a masculine field. Upbringing and background play a key role in discouraging women instead of nurturing the talent. It is because of such deep-rooted stereotypes that you find women being judged more on performance rather than potential.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone just starting in your field?
Dare to dream and then go for it with everything you’ve got. When mistakes and failures happen along the way, as they will, learn to pick up the pieces and swiftly move on.
There is no male or female brain when it comes to getting into the STEM field.
Keep upscaling your skills, be open to learning and grab opportunities as they come.