10 STEM career tips for women — by women
Support What are the best ways for women to get ahead in STEM careers? Cathy Way and Dharmini Chauhan, two senior women from Royal Mail, provided us with their inside knowledge.
About the experts
Edinburgh-based Cathy Way has been with Royal Mail for almost 32 years. For the past year, she's been leading the company's operational design team to ensure the smooth, day-to-day running of the Royal Mail network. London-based Dharmini Chauhan has been with Royal Mail for seven years. She leads a team that optimises the technical operations of customer-facing parts of Royal Mail — including call centres, sales, and marketing.
1. Don’t limit your options
The STEM industries are changing. For example, businesses like ours are making a real effort to be inclusive when it comes to gender, age, culture, background, sexuality, etc, because we value the input and insight of a diverse workforce.
When it comes to recruitment, we want to appeal to a wide audience, particularly women and Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) candidates in order to tell them about the roles we have and ensure they know they can apply for them, too. So don’t limit your options, if you are interested in an industry or organisation, apply for jobs or development opportunities.
2. Seize an opportunity
There are more opportunities available in the workplace than ever before. Make the most of them! For example, job shares mean that women can balance their home and work life while progressing into management and beyond. Also, create an active development plan so you understand your career aims and objectives.
3. Believe in yourself
If you're confident and willing to demonstrate your knowledge and experience, then that speaks volumes for you as a person. If you can, always ask a question at meetings or presentations – either one you prepared beforehand or in response to key points being made.
4. Be proactive
Many women tend to think they have to be great at everything before they put themselves forward for promotion or step outside their comfort zones. For example, if you're not comfortable with presenting to large groups, such as running a team meeting, then coaching and preparation will help. However, there is a school of thought that believes you just need to get on and do it... and, actually, who knows? You might find that you quite enjoy it.
5. Know how to build a network
Networking can be time-consuming, so the key to doing it effectively is to understand what you want to achieve. How and who could help you and what could you offer them in return? Once you know that, you can start to look for right sort of people to network with, both inside and outside of the company.
Find out about other types of careers in STEM roles such as Engineering:
6. Get logical — and hands on
If you have maths, science and/or IT qualifications, that's great: they'll help you understand the tech landscape. But are you good at reasoning? Can you break down problems and convey technical gobbledegook in plain English?
Those are the skills that will stand you in really good stead in this sector. Also, get some hands on exposure to coding and testing solutions, because it'll give you an appreciation of the work — and change your perception of it.
7. Drop the tech-speak!
It can be easy to feel excluded within the tech community. When I was starting out, most of my colleagues — who tended to be male — developed a technical language that was hard to decipher. As a result, the work seemed more complex than it really was. If you are coaching or mentoring others, explain things in simple terms, it makes tech a more engaging, involving, accessible and attractive sector.
8. Don't be constrained
It was never my intention to be a super-duper coder. I wanted to dabble in it; but I also wanted to get experience of other things so I could go into a broader role. So always consider the options in front of you — and don't get painted into a corner.
9. Think ahead
Men forever seem to be planning their next career move, even if they haven't been in their current role for long. Ask a man where they see themselves in five years, and they'll say they want to be the Finance Director or the CIO. Ask a woman and she'll say: 'I'm not sure.' That has to change. Don't wait for someone to recognise your talents. Think about where you want to be — and put yourself forward.
When you do something that's difficult for the first time — such as coding or testing — you may want to run away from it. But ask questions and stick with it because that moment of epiphany will come. It won't happen on day one or day two; but the penny will drop eventually.
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