Finding Your Voice As A Woman in STEMJan 23, 2023
Speaking with people from other cultures can be difficult, but working in engineering as a woman can be even more overwhelming. Women are still a minority in STEM, and we can find it difficult to communicate our needs and find a job that respects and elevates us.
My friend Andrea is an engineer and communication nerd who’s helped countless people improve their careers through effective communication. As a woman in STEM herself, she’s experienced the hurdles many women face in the industry.
Whether you’re starting a new career in STEM or have been working in the field for years, these tips will help you enhance your communication abilities and build relationships with colleagues from around the world. In this blog, we’ll explore strategies for overcoming cultural differences and improving your global engineering network as a woman in STEM.
Find Your Cheerleader
If you’re just starting your career, creating a strong support network is important. Find a mentor who can help you navigate the challenges of working in a technical field. Join professional organisations and attend events where you can meet other women in STEM. Many women feel isolated in technical fields (I know I did when I started out as a young engineer). Women might not have gotten support from friends and family and have never met a woman who does the same thing. Just the general stress of being a minority in your field can weigh you down.
Find peers who understand what it’s like to work in a male-dominated environment and people who truly lift you up. It’s so much easier to succeed when you have someone in your corner cheering you on.
Make “No” Your Favourite Word
Setting boundaries and saying no is essential for women engineers working in international male-dominated environments.
Women often find it more difficult than men to set boundaries and say no. Because we are conditioned from a young age to put others first. We are taught that it is our responsibility to take care of others and that saying no is selfish. This mindset can be difficult to break free from, but it is essential if you want to have a successful career and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
This ties into creating boundaries. When you establish boundaries and learn how to say no, you are taking control of your life. You are telling the world that you will not let them dictate how you live your life. You are also telling yourself that you are worth taking care of. When you have a healthy work-life balance, you can focus better at work and come up with innovative ideas. You are also less likely to experience burnout, which can lead to decreased productivity.
Remember, clear is kind. Let me repeat this: Clear is Kind!
Chances are that your male peers say “no” more often than you – or have boundaries that others don’t question. Become clear with yourself about what you want from your career and employer. Then live in accordance with those principles, saying no when necessary.
Prioritise Your Well-Being
Similarly, don’t let your work come at the expense of your health: physical, mental, or spiritual. When starting out in your career, it’s easy to work for a company that takes advantage of you. You shouldn’t ignore your feelings and health. Look for a job where you can use all your skills and feel good, says Andrea.
In engineering, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance. It is important to be aware of the signals your body and mind are sending you and to act on them. Ignoring your physical or mental health for the sake of your job can lead to serious consequences.
Also, if you don’t create boundaries, you’ll hurt your body in the next 10-15 years. When you’re older, you’ll be happy that you prioritised your well-being over the company’s – and you’ll have more job options that you actually enjoy.
Use Your Skills
Every engineer has a special toolbox of interests. Use this toolbox! One of the great things about working in STEM is that there are many options and paths you can take. Follow your interests, and don’t be afraid to change direction if something isn’t working out. Andrea says if you can’t find a job that suits your interests, create the right job.
Remember that your zone of genius is not making coffee or doing the laundry. As women in engineering, it's easy to forget about following our passions and settling, but that's not good. Find a job that respects your boundaries, ignites your passions, and makes you feel good.
Give Up On Perfect
A common theme that Andrea sees with women engineers is the desire to be perfect. Many women are held back. Women make mistakes too, but we want to be perfect. Which is simply not possible. It’s the same with learning to communicate in Business English. If you wait till you’re perfect, you’ll never speak.
You won’t excel in your career until you give up on perfectionism. If you don’t know something, learn about it. But don’t wait to speak up or move forward till you’re perfect. According to Andrea, giving up perfectionism is the biggest thing women in engineering have to learn. Make mistakes and move on. It’s something that very few men in engineering struggle with.
So, learn and improve and accept the mistakes as they come. With this mentality, you can achieve everything you want.
Keep these tips in mind as you start or continue your career in STEM. By networking with other professionals, setting boundaries, and following your interests, you can succeed in any technical field. And don’t forget to brush up on your Technical English skills! Business English Language training can help you improve your language proficiency and build the confidence you need to communicate effectively in international engineering environments. Find out more about English for Engineers here.
Want to hear the rest of the conversation? Listen to the podcast Vienna waits for you on Spotify, or wherever you usually listen to your favourite podcasts.