by Alexandra Schafhauser and Prachi Bhave
How to become a woman in STEM? Celebrating the International Day of Women and Girls in Science with some practical advice on getting started.
The world is currently witnessing a rapidly evolving employment landscape and technology is transforming at a higher pace than our education systems. Estimations by World Economic Forum show that 65 % of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.
Bridging the gender gap in Science
What we do know is that the future of jobs are in the field of science and technology, with 90 percent of future jobs requiring ICT (Information and Communications Technology) skills, and some 2 million new jobs expected in the computer, mathematical, architecture and engineering fields.
More women have started to pursue careers in STEM, but we still have a long way to go. According to UNESCO data, only around 30 percent of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education and female students’ enrolment is globally particularly low in ICT (3 percent), natural science, mathematics and statistics (5 percent) and in engineering, manufacturing and construction (8 percent). To add to this unsatisfactory numbers, UIS data tells us that less than 30 percent of researchers worldwide are women. Long-standing biases and gender stereotypes are steering girls and women away from science-related fields.
Investing in Talent
The barriers girls and women encounter in accessing and continuing in science must be dismantled and targeted action is urgently needed to build a workforce with future-proof skills. In order to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/70/212 declaring 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. RTW encourages you to read more about the Day and what you can do to make the world a fairer place on UN Women’s website.
RightsTech Women aims to tackle challenges for women in STEM fields. Its vision is a world in which there is greater awareness of international human rights standards, and where STEM and human rights fields work together to ensure that women and girls can equally be part of the solutions to today’s global challenges. This will require governments, educational institutions and companies to address the gender gap and to invest more in fostering diverse talent.
RTW works to empower more girls and women to take the step towards learning STEM and becoming a part of this professional field. RTW actively encourages more women and girls to consider themselves as STEM learners or professionals. Too often, women and girls think that these fields and professions are not for them and that these professions are reserved for certain genders or personality ‘types’. RTW shares stories of women in STEM, in order to support and encourage diverse women. Below, you can read what a few of them have told RTW, and what advice they give on how to become a woman in STEM.
Finally, RTW wishes everyone a happy International Day of Women in Science.
Pieces of advice from women in STEM for people just starting their career
Celebrate every small success
“Don’t get discouraged with rejection. In academia, rejection is our everyday life. Celebrate every small success. If you belong to an underrepresented group and/or minority group in STEM, don’t get discouraged by the lack of diversity. Things are changing, slowly, but changing. Focus on making your voice being heard. It’s uncomfortable sometimes, but there are different ways of doing it, so find the way that fits you best.” – Adriana L. Romero-Olivares, Post-doctoral Research Associate in Biological Sciences, University of New Hampshire
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
“Ask questions. A lot of novices refrain from asking questions, afraid to look like they are not up to the job. But I believe it is the opposite: asking questions is an excellent opportunity to show your interest, curiosity and motivation to learn more and be trustworthy.” – Flora Barriele, Database Administrator, Switzerland
“Never be afraid of asking questions! The sooner you ask, the sooner you will get the answer, the sooner your supervisors and co-workers will be able to help you. It is not admitting your incompetence, it is showing your curiosity. That is the right of being young and inexperienced.” – Katarzyna Dyga-Krajewska, Network Engineer, Switzerland
Always be open to learning new skills
“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.” – Gladys Maina, Information and communication technology (ICT) professional, Kenya
“We live in an amazingly connected world. Staying human (interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, being natural…) will one day be the most sought-after talent in town! So stay curious, keep learning, but not just in your area of expertise. If you haven’t done this lately, try developing the other side of your brain through, for example, artistic, social, spiritual, humanitarian or philosophical activities.” – Marjorie Rojas Rincón, Electronic Engineer, Co-founder, PlusInn
Don’t be afraid of failures
“I think that at the beginning of everyone’s career path, it is essential to learn that failures and unawareness are your best friends. Failures teach us that we have to accept that we don’t know something; unawareness that we have to realize what we need to work on.”- Milana Stojadinov, Software Engineer, Rendered Text
Always believe in what you do
“Know what you want to do, but don’t worry too much about where you will end up. I hate the stereotypical interview question: “So, where do you see yourself in 10 years?” Honestly, if you had seen where I was 10 years ago you could never have predicted where I am now and what I do now. I’d also say, don’t get too down when the going gets tough.
If you believe in what you do and you have put in a great deal of effort you will make a breakthrough at some stage. If you get upset about setbacks it actually means your heart and soul is invested in what you do and that means you are doing the right thing that you should be doing. If you didn’t care so much about the setback, you probably aren’t doing what you are passionate about.” – Jannicke Mikkelsen, Freelance Virtual Reality (VR) film Director and Cinematographer
Don’t get discouraged by negative responses
“My advice for girls and women starting in the tech industry: you are perfect the way you are. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you work hard, learn, fail, learn from your mistakes and get up again, you will do just fine, and that should be enough. You don’t need to be something you are not, just to fit the male-dominated tech industry. Instead, you can be the one to change it!
Also, the tech industry doesn’t just mean programming somewhere in the dark basement. It’s no longer some sort of wizardry – it’s taught in the elementary school! Nowadays it seems like half of our lives are online. This means excellent opportunities for the tech industry in the future. You can contribute to building that future, too.” – Anu Ylänen, Product Specialist, Batmaid
“Don’t listen to people who try to make you change your mind. Trust yourself and follow the path you want. Find a mentor who can help you progress quickly.” – Nadège Faralli, Business Analyst, CreativMinds
Keep watching our website for more advice for women on STEM careers. Find all of our testimonials from women in STEM here: https://rightstech.org/stories-of-women-in-stem/
And, please don’t hesitate to contact us to share your story!