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  • Writer's pictureJenn Donahue

5 Tips for Women in STEM to Grow Their Careers

women engineer writing math on whiteboard

How can women in STEM be more successful in their careers?

STEM businesses and careers are dominated by men and it can be difficult for women to find their path to success.

According to the American Association of University Women, “Women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college.”

As a female engineer and Naval Officer, I know what it’s like to be the only woman in the room.

If you’re like me, you don’t want to feel like your gender is the most important aspect of who you are and how successful you can be.

While it can be difficult to find equality with our male peers, it is possible for women to be incredibly successful in STEM careers.

In my twenty-six years of experience, I have made plenty of mistakes and learned a lot along the way.

I would like to provide you with five tips that can help you on your journey to success.

Find Confidence in Your Posture

While it may sound simple, you might be surprised to discover just how important your posture is to your success. When you walk into a room with your head held high, you emanate power and confidence. The people around you will notice this, but what’s even more important is what you feel inside.

Standing and sitting tall has profound effects on our physiology. Not only does cultivating good posture improve your overall strength and reduce pain, but it also decreases your stress hormones and can lead to feelings of well-being and confidence.

Often in science and technology careers, we have to spend a lot of time at a computer. Make sure you counteract the effects of all this time sitting with regular stretching, standing, and exercise to help you cultivate a strong, confident and assertive posture.

Believe in Yourself, Believe in Your Decisions

Imposter syndrome is very common for women in STEM, and can really come out when we have to make decisions that can affect the course of a project.

If you find yourself in a position to make decisions, you may question whether or not you believe in yourself and your choices.

Whether or not you feel the people around you are questioning your worth, what’s most important is that you believe in yourself, your knowledge, and your competency. When you make a decision, make it clearly and confidently.

Often we will have to make decisions without all of the information we think we need. Make sure you don’t fall into paralysis by analysis; be willing to make decisions and know you will almost certainly have to evolve and adapt along the way.

Mentorship is key for women in STEM careers

I really can’t stress enough the importance of mentorship. Early in my career, I thought I had to figure everything out by myself. By not seeking help, I made a lot of unnecessary mistakes, mistakes I hope you will not have to make. It wasn’t until

I had my first mentor that I realized, “Wow, it really didn’t have to be so hard.”

When it comes to finding mentors, I recommend you don’t limit yourself to just one. For example, it can be very helpful to have a female mentor who has also worked in STEM and can understand where you are, and help prepare you for the challenges ahead.

That doesn’t mean that you should just have female mentors. Find mentors that are knowledgeable in areas that are important to your goals. If possible, find someone in your field who can help you network and potentially provide you with opportunities for advancement.

Build your network with other women in STEM

STEM is a highly competitive industry, especially for women. Rather than fighting one another, I advocate that we as women in STEM create a better culture of supporting and empowering one another.

When asked tech executive, career advice expert, and social influencer Sarah Saadatjoo how women in STEM can get their foot in the door, she stated that, “For women in STEM fields, one of the most important activities you can prioritize to set yourself apart from other candidates is building relationships and leveraging your network.”

Building a network is imperative.

I remember the first time I prepared to attend a women’s networking event. I was nervous and unsure of what to expect. What I found was something I had been desperately missing, a support network of other women who knew what it was like to struggle, and who wanted each other to succeed.

While we may feel that competition pushes us and gives us the edge, collaboration is far more powerful on the path to success. If you can, find women in your field or other STEM positions with whom you can find mutual cooperation, collaboration, and camaraderie.

Celebrate Your Achievements, Big and Small

The best advice I can give to women in STEM is to believe in yourself, empower yourself, and advocate for yourself. There may be many times in your career that you feel like you are being treated unfairly, or that you are not good enough to succeed. Nothing is more powerful to combat imposter syndrome and unfair critics than a healthy sense of your own worth.

It can be incredibly powerful to make a list of all your major accomplishments. Go back as far as you can remember and spare no success or achievement, no matter how trivial it may seem.

Remember to put yourself out there, and advocate for yourself, because if you don’t believe in yourself no one will.

Breaking the Mold: Career Advancement for STEM Women

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers aren’t for everyone, but if you’re like me you got into this field because you love it. It’s important to remember that just because there has been a long-standing culture that these professions are for men, the truth is that they can be for anyone who is inspired and stimulated by using this part of their mind.

Your gender should not matter, but still, you may find times along the path where it seems that you are under scrutiny because of it. Know that many women have come before you and have shown that no matter who you are, or what your background is, you too can be as successful as you dream to be.

Remember to stand tall, trust your decisions, get great mentors, network, and most importantly to believe in yourself. The world needs women like you to be the change you want to see, in STEM and beyond.

If you’d like me to speak on more tips for women in STEM and how they can advance their careers, reach out to me and let’s connect!


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