Forging ahead in your Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) career

Towards the end of May this year I had an opportunity to speak at a conference hosted by Amabhubesi Conferences, which was aimed at young women in the STEM environment.  Part of the presentation focused on how women can grow their careers in STEM, and I wanted to share these with a broader audience – beyond the attendees.

I feel quite strongly that creating the opportunity for growth in your own career, making a difference, or a greater contribution, is critical to ensure that more women stay in the STEM environment.  Here are the six things I think we need to be more aware of:

  1. Not everybody has the right advice for you. Listen to advice, weigh up the pros and cons, but do not feel obligated to do what others say you should. Your work circumstance is different to others, your vision for your career is yours alone.  This means you need to make decisions in your career that are right for you and match your beliefs, your values and your vision.
  2. Stand up against the norm. Susan B. Anthony born February 15, 1820, was a civil rights activist who campaigned against slavery and for women to be given the ability to vote.  Because of Susan’s gender, her school wouldn’t teach her long division so her father taught her at home. Susan, against the accepted norm of the time, became well educated.  Susan took a stand for what was important for her. It took effort and perseverance.  She eventually gave 75-100 speeches a year for 45 years, travelling throughout the United States by stage coach, wagon, carriage and train for women’s rights.  She campaigned for women to learn self-reliance and self-confidence.  Susan also went on to write the Susan B. Anthony Amendment in 1878 which later became the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.

The moral of this story?  There is no excuse for women in STEM not to make a difference – be that in the workplace, in our environments or the world at large.  It merely means sacrificing the norm, putting in the hard work, and perseverance.

 3.  Up your studies. Keep learning.  This will keep you intellectually stimulated and grow your wealth of knowledge even further. Many successful entrepreneurs have no formal qualifications, have furthered their careers and are extremely successful.  Studying does not have to be a degree, diploma or higher education. Studying can be reading books on topics you’re interested in, reading white papers, researching the field you’re working in.

 The imperative is to understand business and worldwide trends.  Learning, knowledge  does equal power, this I have seen.  People with knowledge that use it to benefit the organisation are well respected and are often groomed for senior positions.

 4. Have a support system. Advancing your career is not for the meek or faint-hearted.  Make sure you have a strong supporter on your side. You do not need someone telling what to do – you have enough of that in your head!  Get someone like a life or business coach, who will listen to you and help unpack and understand your shortcomings; dreams and your targets without being an obstacle.

 The flip side of this, is to find ways in which to support someone else.

 5. Remain passionate. Your passion will see you through the lows of advancing your career.  Not everything will be breezy nor easy.  Keep focusing on your goal and when you find yourself moving away from your passion, look back at your goal as a focal point and remain fixed on it – especially during the lows.

 6. Mentor the next generation. In 2020, 80% of all jobs will require STEM education. This requires that all learners take advantage of receive an education in Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths up until Grade 12 and beyond.

 Sadly, in South Africa, with the current pass rate in 2015 of only 10% of 2015’s Grade 12s passed Math and Science with university exemption, making the advancement of STEM based jobs seem like a difficult.

In the most recent World Economic Forum report on Education (which assesses the quality of Maths and Science education), South Africa ranked 148th out of 148 countries.  With the odds against South Africans achieving remarkable careers in the STEM environment, how will we build and gear up the generations below us to build a proper foundation for them and in turn assist South Africa?

We need to find ways in which to mentor the younger generation in the field of STEM. Mentoring is a great way to share your knowledge and passion with someone and inspire and motivate them to excel.

Remember as Albert Einstein once said: “Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them”

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