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Women in STEM: How to excel in a male dominated industry

Kate Hulley, managing director of Boxed Up, a female-led packaging business, unveils exactly what it takes to excel in a male-dominated field.
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Women are still chronically under-represented across all fields of science, making up just 14 per cent of the STEM (Science, technology, engineering and maths) workforce in the UK. These figures are gradually improving thanks to campaigns and events inspiring women to succeed in a male-dominated industry, but there is still more work to be done.

When you consider a profession in engineering, what do you picture? Do you see women dominating the field? Or men in grubby overalls with tools in-hand? It’s not often we picture a successful woman taking control of a situation in a practical working environment. And this perpetuated image of male-only industries create major hurdles for women to jump.

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But that’s not to say it’s impossible to pave your way into these industries. Here are a few tips to take into account.

(1) Confidence is key

Our first discovery about working in a male-dominated environment is that women are considered more quiet – accepting, passive and shy. While men like to assert their authority, often stomping around and dishing out demands, women are more inclined to take a back seat. But don’t play to this generalisation. Articulate your opinions confidently. Even though many people do feel challenged, it’s better to voice your opinions than disappear into the shadows. After all, you can’t expect others to know what you’re thinking.

(2) Play to your strengths

Don’t be afraid to undertake roles that you can not only accomplish in, but do so with absolute perfection. It’s not a crime to show off your strengths in any job, but when faced with an army of male leaders it’s an absolute must. You must assert yourself as a force to be reckoned with, a leader, and above all, an expert in your field. Find ways to mitigate your weaker points. Never be afraid to ask questions, and remember the old saying – “there’s no I in team.”

(3) Choose a mentor

It’s often difficult to find proactive, positive women who can offer the right kind of advice and support. But having a mentor who has faced the same challenges and succeeded on a similar journey to yourself can be useful to bounce ideas off, and to provide real-life inspiration. If you can’t find anyone in your own field, then seek out individuals in a different workplace. Once you find yourself in a good position, be sure to return the favour by offering words of wisdom to your peers.

Can’t find a female mentor? Having a male mentor to show you the way can be just as rewarding, but be sure to put your own spin on the advice offered.

(4) Network to succeed

Male leaders are not going anywhere and if you can’t beat them – so join them. Networking is incredibly important and can shape your future simply by knowing the right people. Identify and join organisations in your line of work, and set time aside to attend the meetings. Linkedin and other similar services are useful in order to reach people in your industry. The UK is also home to some of the most influential STEM networks and organisations, that are proven to help women grow their careers with support from leading women in business.

(5) Desire to work

While asserting your confidence and communicating well are important, your work should speak for itself. Always make it your primary focus to excel in all that you do, and your endeavours can never be questioned. If you wish to take on a leadership role, then you are first going to have to prove you know what you’re talking about and can remain calm under pressure. Grab your chance to take on roles that will allow you to demonstrate your full range of skills. Put in your best effort and try to exceed your own personal goals. Most importantly, do so with a smile. Love what you do… and the rest will follow.

The most important thing to do is to believe in yourself and work hard. There is no one stopping you doing incredible things in your career. After all, you are talented and skilled at the job you do; otherwise you wouldn’t be in this position in the first place! You go, girl!

Kate Hulley is managing director of Boxed Up.

Diversity is disappointingly far from being delivered when it comes to STEM. We asked Yvonne Baker, winner of the 2015 First Women of Science & Technology award, about how to lure more females into the sector.

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