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Breaking Stereotypes

How women working in STEM survive and thrive in a male-dominated workplace

For women working in STEM – a largely a male-dominated environment – building a career can be tough. But leadership and industry mentorship that champions women can help effect real change, says Griselda Togobo, Managing Director of Forward Ladies (pictured right).


Owner and Managing Director of professional women’s network, Forward Ladies, Togobo began her career as an electrical engineer. She didn’t stay in the industry, however.

There aren’t a lot of women in STEM

“There aren’t a lot of women in the sector,” she says. “It’s not a female-friendly or inclusive environment, either. Sadly, I started thinking that I couldn’t achieve all I wanted to in my role and have a family life.”

Togobo realises this is not what aspiring female STEM students want to hear. “When I studied electrical engineering at university, only 10% of the class was female.

“But that wasn’t a problem; we worked well together in our mixed-gender teams and individual performance was based solely on results. I did not feel disadvantaged because I was a young girl studying engineering.

In STEM sectors, women are still earning around £7,000 less than their male counterparts — and that is something that you feel in your pocket.”

Her advice to female would-be engineers is, “get tough and take it on” or nothing will change. “When you are a young woman in the industry you have to be tough to deal with the challenges of working in all-male teams, and that can be difficult,” she admits.

“Now, I could deal with it, but back then, in my twenties, I couldn’t. I didn’t have the tools or experience needed to challenge bias. You have to be confident and be prepared to fight if you are determined to make it to the top.”

We are working with women through our leadership programmes to give them these tools and confidence to challenge unconscious bias.

Female mentors are crucial for future talent

Good leadership is vital. It has a crucial role to play in shaping an inclusive culture in STEM workplaces with strong maternity/parental leave policies, and flexible working practices, says Togobo. “If leaders champion women and promote people on merit, this thinking will make its way down to management and recruitment, too. An organisation will then try harder to find talented women for their graduate and apprenticeship programmes or to promote female members of their if they know they will be held accountable by their leaders.”

Because, ultimately, the STEM sector must find the best talent, from new entrants right the way to the boardroom. It is counter productive if the STEM sector marginalises people because of their gender, especially as research highlights the fact that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams.

Yet the problem starts at an early age, which is why Togobo visits schools so that students — both male and female — can talk about career choices with a female role model. “Otherwise, we’re saying to young women: ‘Study STEM subjects so you can be an engineer! Oh, and by the way, we can’t find any female engineers to talk to you about it.’ That has to change.”

Togobo is also a big advocate of industry mentorship. “Mentoring is crucial,” she says. “I’ve benefitted from different mentors at different stages of my career. It’s important to have a sounding board to challenge your thinking.” Relatable mentors can be especially inspirational for young women as proof that career progression is possible.

Women working in STEM need male support

Hearing female voices talk about this subject is all very well, says Togobo, but enlightened male advocates are needed too. “There are male leaders out there who want their sons and daughters to do well and have equal opportunities. These are the men we need to champion the cause.”

‘Don’t rule yourself out.’ is Togobo’s advice to any woman wanting to pursue a career in STEM. “Think about what you want to achieve and go for it,” she says. “Yes it’s a male-dominated industry, but don’t let that put you off. It only takes one special person to make a change to the culture.”

How are we solving this issue?

I’m committed to supporting women working in STEM due to my personal experience of working in a male dominated sector.

Three initiatives to support employers and women working in STEM:

We showcase diverse, credible female role models through the Forward Ladies National Awards Sponsored by HSBC. This year, we have two STEM categories to spotlight rising stars and inspirational role models within the STEM sector.

We are delighted to have launched a six month STEM Inspired Leadership Programme in partnership with Yorkshire Water to support emerging leaders in STEM. These are future leaders who can change the lack of female representation at the top. They are the inspiration for the next generation – invest in them!

We have launched a piece of research to hear from women and employers. We want to explore both sides of the issues contributing to the under-representation of women in STEM. How effective are the various STEM initiatives in attracting and retaining women in STEM? What is working and what’s not working? We want to showcase best-practice and highlight the most effective diversity programmes.

Get in touch and get involved!

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