Women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce but represent only 27 percent of STEM workers, according to the U.S. Census. And that’s up from 8 percent in 1970. With such a large gender gap, what is it like to work in this field as a woman?
We asked some inspiring women in STEM at ECS to share more about their career journeys. They discussed challenges they’ve faced and people who’ve influenced them, skills they wish they learned earlier, and books they’d recommend.
What challenges have you faced in STEM and how have you overcome them?
One of the more challenging times in my career was when I was a mom of three young kids. Back then, the idea of a stay-at-home dad was unheard of. Moms had to either stay home or work full time. There was very little middle ground there.
Staying home for a few years typically set moms back in their careers, causing them to restart their progression up the corporate ladder. Flexible work schedules were not popular or available. And you can imagine how little time young moms had to maintain their technical skills!
I was very fortunate to work for an older manager who told me something that has stuck with me throughout my career: “You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at the same time.” That message resonated with me during that period, eased my angst, and helped me relax and take each day as it came. Although I did take a step back when I returned to work, once I became a manager, I made flexible work schedules part of my management toolbox, prioritized continuing education for my direct reports, and repeated my manager’s phrase to many a new mom and dad.
What is the best investment, in time, money, energy, etc. you have made?
I picked up a six-week unpaid cloud computing internship while I was a full-time student already working two full-time jobs. On the last day of my internship, a company ranked number 55 on the Fortune 500 list called me and offered me my first position in cybersecurity as a cyber threat analyst. All of my hard work finally paid off!
Tell us about someone who has inspired you along the way.
The late Shon Harris and her books inspired me as I began my journey into the field of Information Security. Shon was recognized as one of the top 25 women in the information security field by Information Security magazine and wrote one of the leading Certified Information Systems Security Professional study guides still in use today. She’s a pioneer in the Info-Sec field, and I continue to use her reference material today.
What would you say are the most important skills for women in STEM right now?
While this doesn’t just apply to women, I would say good communication skills—written, oral, and interpersonal—are often underrated. There’s a lot of emphasis on the hard skills in STEM careers, but no matter what job you have, you are going to need to interact with people. Being able to communicate effectively with people from all walks of life will help you immensely along the way.
What books do you recommend to a woman setting out in this field?
Wise Leadership by Linda A. McLyman ― A collection of bite-sized blurbs about wise and mature leadership. While it’s specifically about leadership, the lessons can be applied more broadly. If I’m struggling with something at work or need some quick inspiration, it’s easy to turn to any page and pull something interesting to reflect on. As my career evolves, so does my experience each time I refer to this book.
The Marshmallow Challenge by Tom Wujec ― Not a book, but a TED Talk about the importance of experimenting and prototyping.
Any book by Nancy Duarte ― For communicating and presenting your information more effectively.