In recent years, women made up 48% of the workforce, yet women only account for 27% of STEM workers. As we approach the beginning of Women’s History Month, we celebrate the achievements and strides women have made in STEM and look toward future generations and innovation to come. We heard from 8 woman experts and leaders in security, engineering and data science, sharing their advice for fellow women or girls who are looking to break into STEM.
Molly Brown, VP of Engineering, Qumulo
"The contributions we make in STEM are critical in bringing improvements to our communities and society at large. While the challenges in this field are daunting, progress is made one step at a time with a strong dose of persistence, a trait which I know all women innately possess. To be a woman is to persist through continuous adversity, and women in STEM have the power to fundamentally transform our future.”
“Given the demographic disparities, women entering the technology sector may find themselves surrounded by people with more expertise and experience in STEM. My biggest advice is this: do not get discouraged. My career in technology began at the university level where I was one of 30 women among 500 men. I encourage women to hold their ground and not be intimidated. Anyone breaking into a new industry will face a learning curve and the solution is to ask questions and find ways to learn from and leverage a more experienced individual's strengths and knowledge against your own to get things accomplished. To gain confidence, I also advise women to tinker, build and prototype themselves as a way to contribute to their own bank of practical experience.’
Alicia Frame, Director of Product Management for Data Science, Neo4j
“Working in a male-dominated field like data science can be challenging for women to feel like they can speak up and voice their opinions. Early on in my career, I struggled with this and imposter syndrome in general, but two of my female colleagues encouraged me to just be me, to vocalize my thoughts during meetings and say what I meant instead of hiding behind lots of platitudes. I encourage all women in STEM to feel as empowered to never quiet their voices because your opinions matter.”
Teresa Shea: VP Cyber Offense and Defense Experts, CODEX, Raytheon Intelligence and Space
“Believe in yourself and your desire to make a difference in the world. It’s simple and I wholeheartedly believe that confidence and passion can convince people that you deserve a seat at the table - because you do! I’ve been in the cybersecurity industry for over three decades, I’ve made mistakes, and I’m sure I’ve been doubted just like everyone else, but worked hard and never gave up on what I believed in.
When I was in high school, I knew math wasn’t a common thing for women to be keen on - at least that's what I perceived. As I graduated from high school, the Society of Women Engineering gave me a scholarship, and I became one of few women in my electrical engineering major, but I worked hard to know my stuff and felt confident in my abilities. Then, when I worked with the National Security Agency, I felt empowered because I was among individuals that valued my skills and work ethic.
As the school year begins again, my advice to other women is to surround yourself with individuals that are passionate about similar interests— if they care about solving problems, there’s less time to judge you based on your gender— and finally, remember that STEM is not monolithic. If you don’t love math, you can still be a great scientist. If you hate science, you may excel at programming. Find your niche and stick with it.”
Anisha Patel: Sr. Program Manager at Raytheon Technologies
“Men and women both need to put an effort into welcoming more diversity into the STEM field, but I can only speak from my own experiences and a woman in cybersecurity. I was fortunate to have a family that pushed me towards a career in the technology sector, but not every girl or woman has that same influence in their education. If a woman has the passion and interest in technology, I encourage them to find mentors that support them. Mentors can be male or female— and although we don’t need a mentor to succeed, having someone in our corner to encourage and advocate for us is great fuel to continue pursuing STEM.
For any woman looking to enter STEM, I also encourage her to go where she is valued. As a student, go to networking events and look at who the recruiters and top leaders are. Do they look like you or at least champion the success of women in their organization? That will be very telling to the experience a woman may have breaking into the industry. It’s also important to always question gender stereotypes, because oftentimes, those are what get in the way of a woman feeling like she would belong.”
Dr. Nandi Leslie - Chief Data Scientist and Engineering Fellow, Raytheon Technologies
“One piece of advice for young girls considering entering the STEM field is to recognize how critical their unique voices, perspectives, and informed thoughts are to the global community. Their efforts and contributions have the great potential of making an indelible impact on a broad array of the dimensions of everyday life from biodiversity conservation, public health, medicine, to world economies.
I applaud the women who are considering transitioning to STEM for their bravery – reinventing yourself is not for the faint of heart. I recommend that you consistently hone your skills throughout your career, and this will certainly bear many fruits for you and all those whose lives you’ll touch with your work.”
Catherine Southard, VP of Engineering at D2iQ
“For fellow women who are looking to break into the STEM field, never sell yourself short. No matter your skills and experiences, you can find a way to benefit the tech ecosystem. It’s important to be flexible while upleveling up your skill sets, from growing your network within the industry to obtaining technical certifications to further your career.
My first big break came from identifying a need my company had; I found an opportunity and jumped right in, even though it wasn’t a path I had initially planned for. Don’t be afraid to try something new even if you think you don’t meet the exact requirements. There is opportunity out there and your big break will come soon.”
“One piece of advice for young women entering the STEM field is to be fearless and confident. It’s ok to recognize that there exists some underlying bias, but refuse to let it corrode your sense of self-worth. Women should look past hesitations of entering a male-dominated field and instead, focus on their goal of wanting to create solutions that have an industry-changing impact.
Growing up, I was inspired by my family of surgeons and entrepreneurs, which influenced my decision to venture into technology. However, one thing I realized, and am still learning, is that the only person you should be competing against is yourself. Never underestimate your intelligence. Whatever your skill set is, try to perfect that. I deeply believe that you do not need to be a genius in STEM to be successful. What some of us need to work on is self-confidence, motivation, communication, and work ethic. If you can master that and expand yourself to do anything, you’ll be afforded many great opportunities and have a fulfilling career.”