Women in STEM

Darcy Nathan, Editorial assistant
March, 2024

From groundbreaking discoveries to shaping the future of technology, women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) are a force to be reckoned with

Yet, despite their growing presence, challenges persist for these pioneering individuals. This month, Prospects dived into the inspiring journeys of three women working in STEM.

What is your current role?

Lucy: I'm a PhD researcher at Newcastle University in the School of Pharmacy.

Katie: I'm a net zero consultant at a civil engineering company.

Chloe: I'm on the IT graduate scheme at Jisc.

Which female role models inspire you?

Lucy: Some that stand out include Marie-Curie for her groundbreaking contributions to the field of radioactivity and for being the first woman to win a Noble Prize, and more recently Professor Sarah Gilbert, a British vaccinologist, who played such a crucial role in the development of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Katie: In addition to her pioneering work as a nurse, Florence Nightingale was a statistician who did great work on data visualisation. This side of her work has been forgotten by many and was hugely important for measuring and communicating the positive impact of the sanitation measures she was working on.

Chloe: One of my female role models is Jamie Kern Lima, the founder of IT Cosmetics. She is a big advocate for inclusivity and diversity in the beauty industry and empowers women to feel confident in their own skin. She inspired me to celebrate my uniqueness and to confidently pursue passions without fear of judgement.

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

Lucy: In such a male-dominated field it is so easy to feel like you don't belong, and the imposter syndrome can creep in fast. I always tell myself 'You wouldn't be here if someone didn't believe you could do it'.

Katie: I still sometimes lack confidence in my abilities, which can hold me back. Early in my career, I was often told I should be more vocal about sharing my ideas in meetings. I have worked hard to build up my confidence and am much better at this now. I have to remind myself that my opinions and insights are important and that I do have valuable things to say.

Chloe: One of the biggest challenges I faced was when I was interviewing for IT roles that were often male-dominated. During some interviews, I found that my voice was sometimes overshadowed. I focused on improving my communication skills and made sure that I went into interview settings with a more confident approach to expressing my ideas and opinions.

What are you most proud of achieving in your career?

Lucy: I am proudest of a project which made history and was the first of its kind to enter phase one clinical trials. Although my role may have only been small, I feel so honoured to have even been involved. Of course, there were some challenging times, especially with some demanding deadlines but to see the success of the project made it very worthwhile.

Katie: At my previous company, I was one of the leads on a project aiming to improve the organisation's sustainability impact. I also led the preparation of our application for a sustainability certification scheme, which involved gathering extensive evidence to support our application. Our application was submitted shortly before I left the company, and the team have continued to make positive improvements since I left.

How can we encourage more women to enter STEM careers?

Lucy: Despite being so early on in my career, I'd like to think I can be a role model in some ways by sharing my experience so far. We can also create safe spaces for STEM women to network and connect with women in their field or offer opportunities for collaboration.

We can help women in STEM thrive by creating supportive learning environments that allow us to collaborate with equal access to resources. Anytime you see a post on LinkedIn or social media, whether it be a woman who has recently published her research paper or won an award for her work, give it a like, a share, it's something so small but shows so much support.

Katie: We now see women well represented at a junior level within some engineering companies, but senior levels are still dominated by white men. It's important to ensure that women are encouraged and supported to put themselves forward for promotions and opportunities, as we may be less likely to than men, particularly if we are struggling with imposter syndrome.

Chloe: Setting up STEM communities and having a safe space for women who take an interest in STEM to talk about their experiences is one of the many ways we can support women to thrive in this field. Also, openly addressing gender biases and stereotypes that persist in these fields is important for creating a culture of respect and equality.

What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in STEM?

Lucy: Do it! It may be a small community but the togetherness and support from the women in the field is simply the best. I've met so many incredible women in STEM by simply networking via LinkedIn and events. Take challenges as opportunities for growth and don't be afraid to reach out when you need it.

Katie: Seek out mentors who can support and guide you in your career. These don't always have to be senior people at work, it could be a colleague, friend or teacher. Having people in my life who can challenge me to try new things and support me when I am finding things difficult has made a huge difference to me over the years.

Chloe: Ensure you don't hold yourself back in fear of what others may think. Your voice matters just as much as anyone else's. Networking within the STEM community is a way to surround yourself with supportive peers who can provide valuable insights which will be significant in helping shape your career.

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