The Best Advice for Women About to Enter the STEM Workforce

The Best Advice for Women About to Enter the STEM Workforce

There is no shortage of inspirational women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) for young students to look up to. Women in STEM have been responsible for some of the world’s most revolutionary discoveries, from confirming the existence of dark matter to developing the framework for wireless communication.

These two particular discoveries from the 20th century were originally credited incorrectly to men. Fortunately, women in STEM today are finally beginning to have agency over their work. Every field of science, engineering, mathematics, and technology is open to young women.

Unfortunately, it is also true that women in STEM today don’t feel equal to their male peers. According to data presented by the Pew Research Center, a woman working in a STEM field is more likely to experience discrimination at work. Women in STEM are more likely than men to earn less for the same work, to be treated as though they are incompetent, to receive less support from leadership, and to feel isolated in the workplace.

Around 50 percent of women in STEM believe that gender discrimination is having a significant impact on the low rates of women entering this area of the workforce. For the young women who are about to graduate with a STEM degree and enter the STEM workforce, awareness about the state of the industry and how best to navigate common, gender-based issues is crucial.

Listed below are three important pieces of advice for young women who are about to join the STEM workforce.

women in science

1. Remember that strength in STEM matters as much as “smarts.”

Movies, television, and personal experience in these fields has taught us all that being “book smart” is a crucial characteristic for anyone who wants to work in STEM. A commitment to learning and hard work is absolutely necessary. Ultimately, women in these fields also have to develop an unwavering inner strength to find success and happiness in their careers.

As indicated in Pew’s research, women in STEM often find that they need to repeatedly prove themselves at work to be recognized as worthy of their positions. They often face comments and behavior that are unintentionally hurtful and sexist and are likely to work in environments where they feel isolated as the only female employee. To bear these things in the workplace and still have passion for one’s job in STEM takes a remarkable amount of inner strength and grit.

No one wins in STEM when talented female scientists, mathematicians, engineers, or tech employees leave an industry they love because of unfair treatment. While it’s our collective responsibility as a culture to address discrimination in STEM, women must focus on being as mentally strong as they are intelligent in the meantime.

2. Find a group of your peers—and a mentor.

Connecting with other women in STEM who share professional interests and experiences can provide a sense of reassurance and support to a STEM worker who is feeling disappointed, burnt out, or even lonely in her professional life. Associations and clubs for women in specific STEM fields exist in many cities around the world. Joining these groups is a means of finding camaraderie and learning about professions in STEM that one may not have considered before.

It can also be helpful from a social and professional standpoint to find a good mentor who can offer guidance in terms of career decisions, problems in the workplace, and experience-based advice about the industry. Women in STEM can even choose to have more than one mentor to support them in different areas of professional interest. Mentors can be valuable role models who help young women in STEM grow into their full potential in spite of industry-specific challenges.


3. Push back against doubt by embracing the uncertain.

Women in STEM sometimes feel like they have to work twice as hard to be thought of as half as talented in their industries. That kind of mindset can often lead to a pressure to be perfect. As a result, when new, exciting career or research opportunities present themselves, women may lack confidence about their ability to do these jobs perfectly, right away.

It’s important for women in the field to overcome that doubt by being okay with uncertainty and new experiences. It’s easy to doubt oneself as a woman in STEM, but that kind of thinking should be acknowledged for what it is—an unhelpful and even harmful line of thought rooted in false stereotypes.

Women in STEM should push themselves to try their hands at new skills that they may have avoided out of fear or anxiety. STEM is largely about experimentation, and women in these fields should not let the weight of gender stereotypes stop them from trying new things.

The takeaway: Even with as far as we’ve come in STEM, women in this line of work today should still be considered trailblazers—they’re fighting to both do incredible, innovative work and combat stereotypes that have existed for centuries. As a society, we still have a long way to go, but if the young women entering STEM today continue to push forward in the face of difficulty, then someday soon we may encounter a world where no little girl ever grows up with the belief that she will never excel in science and math.