How can we achieve an equal future for leadership in STEM?

Hear from six distinguished women in our virtual roundtable on the challenges women can face throughout their leadership journeys.

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We know that Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industries are ready to provide sustainable, impactful, and rewarding careers across the globe. However, there has been a significant shortfall in quality STEM candidates.

As a specialist STEM recruitment firm, we want to bridge the gap between the supply and demand of STEM talent as well as bring career opportunities in STEM to everyone. With the advent of technology, not only has the STEM industry grown and become more relevant, but it has also evolved into a sustainable career with purpose, especially in leadership.

In light of observing Women’s Month in March, SThree APAC had the privilege to invite six distinguished women to join us in a virtual roundtable to discuss the challenges women may face in their journey towards leadership and what advice and tips they can share from their personal experience.

Our speakers:

Moderated by Tommy Haviland and organised by our Diversity & Inclusion team in APAC, this session has been very inspiring and is suitable for all female professionals who wish to unlock their full potential - whether you're someone who has just embarked on your career journey or could be leaning towards a leadership role in the near future. If you missed the session or would like to re-watch it, you can do so below.

Stories on career progression

Our speakers shed light on some of the unique challenges in their career, and how they’ve managed to overcome them.

Miki experienced big changes when she moved from legal to business, having to pick up the ropes from scratch. With skills in entrepreneurship, she’s now leading two start-ups despite the challenges she faced from changing her focus. Her advice to everyone is to be open to learning, no matter what stage of your career you’re at, or the nature of your profession.

Aliona expanded on this, to add that it takes courage to believe in yourself and be daring to try new things. She feels that having a support group around you will help you navigate through difficult times and ensure that you’re kept grounded. She said: “Change your career and change your life. I’ve moved from marketing to sales to technical support and finally to leading a new business. It was very hard, but overcoming these challenges is truly rewarding.”

Gender equality – what does it really mean?

Our speakers also shared their views on what needs to change to create a more equal society, and workplace, for men and women.

Jody pointed out an example of a female cardio surgeon who is labelled as a ‘girl boss.’ These labels may be inspiring, but also speak volumes about how a woman being a cardio surgeon is not the norm and it adds to the inequality that exists. To create a more equal workplace, Jody stated that narrowing the gender pay gap would be the first step. The conversation around this topic has been growing across industries around the world, but more needs to be done.

Annie agreed with this and added: “We are all human, and we can experience unconscious bias everywhere. On an individual level, if we can make small steps to be conscious of this, it can go a long way. On a corporate level, training is available to eliminate this as well.”

Life during the pandemic

We did a quick poll and 93% of our respondents found that the impact of technology was highly significant.

As Uma shared, the fundamental shift in a digital workforce is already underway – having seamless access to tools that are productive and collaborative. The way we look at security is changing and embedding a new customer approach is integral. Customer experience is now delivered in a tailored way, and we can see this in various examples:

  • Adoption of telehealth being a priority compared to waiting in line to meet a doctor physically.
  • Governments going digital to keep citizens informed in real-time i.e., contact-tracing.
  • World-class education going online and potential adoption of hybrid education.
  • Financial services competing with Fintechs who function on the cloud, even beyond the pandemic, to provide cashless digital options.

Along with this is also the changing dynamics of work-life balance. Meghna revealed that LinkedIn focuses a lot more on work-life harmony rather than work-life balance. ‘Balance’ tends to have a negative connotation that suggests a 50-50 balance, whereas ‘harmony’ suggests making constant trade-offs and being at ease with those trade-offs. As a mother of two, she is thankful that she works with a company that prioritises well-being for her to manage responsibilities at home and work. According to a report by McKinsey, although women make up 39% of the global workforce they account for 54% of overall job losses. The research also found women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic than men’s jobs.

Words of advice for all women

Our speakers shared some encouraging words for young women who are just starting their careers.

Uma: “Ask and you shall most likely receive. I asked for a pay raise and I got it. What didn’t work for me is working really hard at your desk and not getting noticed. Find small ways to promote yourselves. If you’re pitching an idea, find an ally to back you up. Most importantly, the thing to do for your career is to have a circle of people who are unapologetically ambitious, and challenge workplace struggles.”

Meghna: “Don’t wait for perfection to raise your hand. Don’t wait for the perfect time. If it’s not something you want, don’t push yourself to do it. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself and build a tribe around you. Also remember that you are in a position of privilege to lift others around you.”

Aliona: “My main slogan is to be brave. This is the factor we forget sometimes as we all have desires and motivations, but for some reason, we think we are not perfect enough or allow someone to get in front of us, or to even wait to start a family and have children in your life. It’s okay to not be perfect, it’s also okay to stand up for new projects or a new family in the middle of your career. Be brave in your life.”

Annie: “Don’t be afraid to fail. I’ve made so many mistakes in my career, but it made me learn. Be bold and have that hands-on experience. Find a mentor – this is essential to support you when you’re stuck and confused. A mentor will be there to guide you along.”

Miki: “You have creativity. If you encounter any hardship, don’t give up because you can find a way around it, or diminish the problem. When you face an obstacle that you don’t have the courage to solve, use your creativity to tackle the issue. Be aware of your creativity and believe in it.”

Jody: “I tend to second guess myself, but I’ve realised to get more opportunities, I need to grow and start raising my hand to be recognised more by my managers. Overcome your inner voice because change comes from within. Keep putting yourself out of your comfort zone.”

Every small step goes a long way

We shared an article earlier this month to highlight some of the actions that you, your families, organisations and institutions can take to help the growth of female leadership in STEM. These range from being an advocate of change, to challenging unconscious biases day-to-day. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.

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