With growing concerns about the value and need for highly trained scientists and engineers, there's an enormous opportunity for women to take on leadership positions in companies, academics and government in fields focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). These are not just tech fields that focus on bits, bytes and computer science. They are fields across the broad spectrum in engineering, physics, and chemistry. They are the fields that create the stuff we eat, wear, use as medicine, drive and use as energy sources. A female's participation in the boardroom and in leadership positions in STEM fields can make a difference. Here is an article on the data that explains why women are the people to make change.
One way I believe women can build successful STEM is through bragging. Unfortunately, bragging gets a bad rap. There is the assumption that bragging without REAMS of data to back it up is unheard of. You wouldn't talk about your research without substantiated data. Right? Isn't it better for women to be modest about our accomplishments and just "let the work speak for itself" -- or even better, let others brag about us? I say, NO. Bragging is not the problem. Not being comfortable doing it is the challenge.
A successful STEM career is not only about doing great science -- it is also about convincing and sharing with others why it is important science, and why we are the ones capable of doing it. Accurate and reliable results to any experiment are critical, and we are trained that communication of the result and its value is as important as the result itself. Yet sharing our abilities, not only our data, which could be thought of as bragging by some, does not come easily or naturally to all of us. Think of it this way -- that course in quantum mechanics or molecular genetics most likely did not come easily at first either. That is, until you learned the material, and then probably got an A.
The great news is data from the National Science Foundation shows women obtaining more B.S. and doctoral degrees than ever before in STEM - and in many fields surpassing the number of men obtaining the degree.
However, with all these strides forward, we as women are not moving ahead into leadership positions. Why do we remain at only 27 percent of the STEM workforce when the data says women in STEM fields earn, on average, 33 percent more than women working in non-STEM fields? Could it be that it does not all have to do with forces external to ourselves?
Women in STEM need to step up to the plate. They need to acknowledge that we have met the enemy and sometimes it's us. Twenty first century STEM career development is a contact sport for men and women. And, the rules about women which were made in other centuries must change, and we must change them.
So, here are some tips I have learned along the way that you can use as you plan the game strategy for your career:
Take charge of your confidence and your conversation.
Results from Project Enhance, a study which surveyed the attitudes and beliefs of over 2,000 STEM women and their managers about career advancement, showed strong links between actual success (e.g., salary, position) and a woman's confidence for her own success. The research found that women were concerned about home-work stress...but also confident that they could manage the stress well, which is a positive finding for women, although not necessarily communicated well in the working world. Oftentimes in the office, male managers hear that women feel stressed and then overestimate this same stress they think women experience -- and then can handle, causing them to assess women's career paths inaccurately.
Find ways to brag that fit your style and still share the facts.
Share your confidence with humility. When a woman is asked if she could fix a failing global product in 10 countries, all of which had different laws governing different aspects of the product, she could shout, "I have every confidence that I can achieve that goal!" Or -- she could pause, make eye contact with the interviewer, and say quietly and confidently, "I'd be completely comfortable with that ... and here is why."
Say, "The kind of challenge I like best is..." or "There's nothing that gives me more satisfaction than..." And follow up with an example as a proof point!
Or try my personal favorite, the pride angle.
Say, "When the crisis hit, I assembled a project team. We revised the product design in six weeks and got it through manufacturing with no down time. I was proud of the people involved, the team spirit we built, and I'm proud of the team and the outcome." Then explain the actual outcome.
Don't wait for someone else to say you're capable and leadership material in today's competitive world -- it may NOT happen. Say it yourself. There's too much at stake when women have the training that could create the energy source that could sustain the planet -- and we don't tell anyone! It's time to start bragging.