a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
Over the past couple of years, the world has encountered a plethora of unforeseen challenges. Overshadowed by the glaringly obvious climate adversities and the struggle for sustenance (mental and occupational) through a global lockdown, there have been certain other issues that have been ever-existent through decades. Among others, sexism has been one such rampant issue. Over time, it has morphed into countless dimensions, trickling down through societal norms that women faced daily. A majority of actions, beliefs, habits were woven with an undertone of discrimination. Although various revolutions have overturned things for the better in the last few years, there are still a few obstacles that need tending to.
One such issue is that of the STEM industry. On average, there is 1 female student for every 7 male students in STEM universities. I graduated from KJ Somaiya, one of India’s premier institutions, and I was one of 11 women in a class of approximately 80 students. This is a minuscule observation. Let’s look at a slightly bigger picture, shall we? The Global Gender Gap Report calculated a gender parity of 68.6%. In cloud computing, just 12% of professionals are women. Similarly, in engineering and Data and AI, the numbers are 15% and 26% respectively. In Marketing today 41% of Digital Specialists are women, yet 53% of those in the talent pipeline are female. Such figures suggest there is scope to expand the share of women employed as Data Scientists and Digital Specialists. In terms of economic participation, this gender gap will take approx. 257 years to close (compared to 202 years in the 2019 report). There are 72 countries where women are barred from opening bank accounts or obtaining credit. This is a likely result considering the severe lack of representation in emerging roles. Given the odds, it is highly unlikely that the numbers will match anytime soon. However, as daunting as these statistics look, slowly but surely, circumstances have turned a new leaf.
Clearly being a woman in STEM sounds like a road less travelled, but there are ample examples of how these gaps can be filled on an individual level. Being a woman in STEM, I grasped very early on, that a few key learnings go a long way. Here are some that might help:
(Sidenote: These tips are free of any gender requirement, they just hail from a female lens)
- Determination goes a long way. As for every other aspect of life, perseverance is the much-spoken-about-yet-much-overlooked key to sticking it out. Whether it comes to a stubborn piece of code that refuses to work or a marketing strategy that is slightly outside your budget, the key is to firmly stand your ground. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and blood, sweat and tears are a standard-issue demand for any job. But the grit to go an extra mile, or 10, is definitely a step forward. STEM is notoriously famous for slow/ false-positive results now and then, but consistency will sooner or later overcome it.
- Kindness does not encompass a weak spine. Leadership roles require tough decisions, and a firm resolve to say ‘No’. More often than not, a negation rubs people the wrong way. But this need not hold back your growth. Striking a balance between being kind and being smart is something to master, especially in a field where vulnerabilities are easily spotlit. Working with technology means nurturing a code like it’s your adopted child before someone else steps in as a new guardian. In an environment, this transparent, mistakes are bound to show more clearly. Whether it is a conflict of strategy, or a disagreement on efficiency, the maturity to hold your own as well as accepting your fault, is a gem of a quality to hone. Be unapologetic about your growth, with its achievements AND its mistakes. Feedback drives growth, and an effective critique amalgamates kindness with a clear vision to achieve the same.
- Questions are the only beacon of improvement. Shying away from opportunity is the same as losing one. One thing I learnt was that asking questions was always better than not. I joined my current company as an intern, and a hop, skip and some overnight work later, I built three microservices from the ground up, independently. Asking questions was my only job as an intern, and it helped me avoid rework that a few of my colleagues gave in due to lack of communication. A good team leader is unafraid of the difficult questions you ask, and a better team leader finds their answers with you. So ask away. Every ‘wh’ question that pops up in your head is either a solution and a clear idea now, or confusion and rework later. Take your pick.
- Building healthy boundaries makes you admirable, not flawed. Women are nature’s chosen childbearers. The feeling of nurturing and being gentle with relationships is thus instinctive. However, workplaces require firm boundaries of understanding. A good work relationship is not a close relationship in particular, it is one that effectively benefits the company and fulfils one’s professional responsibility. Building and relying on these boundaries has helped me not only grow more confident as a professional but also taught me to compartmentalise and process situations in a healthy manner. Work relationships require a level of professionalism that silences overattachment and insecurity. The process of building these boundaries proves fruitful more often than not. Your intern is a great person, but slacks off work? It’s time to have a word with them, even though they sent cupcakes for your birthday or babysat your child.
The stigma around the percentages of women in leadership roles as compared to men is tangible on a global level. But as a woman who has admired countless strong women growing up, and aims to work in STEM all her life, I can confidently say that this gap is a matter of a few untaken steps. Logic building, algorithm solving, structured programming does not care for chromosomes. If the first step on the moon was a man, the first step on another could be a woman. After all, if women take as many steps ahead as men do, progress will benefit exponentially.
Some resources and useful links to more pieces that address similar challenges :