If you’re a young woman interested in all things science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), it can be hard to navigate your way through these male-dominated fields. Do not despair, young researchers, there is hope, and it starts with you.
It’s easy to get swept away by the majority and to try to fit in, but the best thing any woman can do in any industry is just be herself.
As a woman, you might — and should — bring a different perspective to the equation and that’s okay. Melinda Gates considers the day Microsoft offered her a job to be one of the happiest days of her life. However, working as a woman in a male-dominated field can be difficult, and Gates struggled at first to find her place while preserving her own happiness.
“When I first started my career at Microsoft (in the 1980s), I remember thinking that I had to be more like the men I worked with — more aggressive and less collaborative — if I wanted to succeed,” she said. “But the more I tried to fit in, the more miserable I felt.”
What did she do? She tried being herself and found that everything changed for the better. Not only was she happier, she also felt more fulfilled in her career and became a better manager, and colleagues asked to be on her team.
Role models matter
For Gates, there is one key piece of advice she offers to all those aspiring to join the world of research and technology.
“Find a mentor,” she said. “Research shows that when women studying STEM have a female mentor, they’re more likely to feel motivated and self-assured, complete their courses, and find a job in their field after graduating.”
Having someone who’s been in your shoes, who understands your struggles and who can support you and guide you along the way is an invaluable part of getting more women in the field. “And then, one day, be that person for someone else,” she said.
When Gates talks to students today, she said it’s frustrating to hear women “describe some of the same barriers that (she) faced in the ‘80s.” However, there’s a silver living: People are finally talking about the gender gap and inclusivity — issues that were ignored when she was starting her career.
“Now they’re on the front page,” she said, “and as a result, we’re seeing organizations start to respond (by) publishing and tracking their diversity data, making decisions off of it, and punishing bad behavior when it comes to light.”
Karine Bengualid, [email protected]