Tips you can’t miss for career success as a woman in STEM

Discover the key careers advice shared during targetjobs’ women in STEM webinars. Learn how to kickstart your STEM career while still at university and the secrets to long-term STEM career success.

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The core STEM workforce has a shortage of women: only 24% of those working in this field are women, according to data from the UK government in 2019. Although a seemingly discouraging figure for equality, this statistic does show a gradual increase in the number of women in STEM professions since 2016, when only 21% of the core STEM workforce were women.

This could be because all of the STEM employers that we speak to here at targetjobs tell us that they are committed to diversity and inclusion and are keen to ensure that women are no longer underrepresented in these professions.

But the fact is that, right now, women are underrepresented – so how can you get your start in STEM and go on to have a successful career?

In the targetjobs webinars below, STEM students and women in engineering share their advice for getting into and getting ahead in your career.

Watch the webinars or jump to the key careers advice points from both discussions: Long-term career success | Get work experience as a student | Network | How to bring up ‘women in STEM’ | Find role models and mentors | Overcome imposter syndrome

Watch for top tips on starting your STEM career at university

Phoebe, Eunice, Anjali, Rachel and Aurora – all STEM students from UK universities – discuss their tips for getting your STEM career off to the best start as an undergraduate. Key points include:

  • The importance of having a STEM role model (and the benefits of being one)
  • Making yourself heard
  • Getting out of your comfort zone
  • The positives of being a woman on a STEM course
  • The challenges of being a woman on a STEM course.
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Tips from STEM students to start your career off right.

The secret to long-term career success

Katie, a software engineer at Arm , believes that the secret to thriving in your career is to embrace a mindset of self-belief: ‘Some people may still believe that women can’t make it to the top in STEM, but it’s not true.

Making an effort to ignore that idea and working hard will help you get to where you want to be,’ she says. ‘After all, there are many companies that are uncomfortable with the lack of women in STEM and want women to be successful within their organisation.’

Paris, an applications engineer at Cummins , hones in on the importance of finding an employer where you can be your authentic self. ‘If you’re at an organisation where your voice isn’t heard, or you feel uncomfortable, then this will impact your career negatively,’ she explains. ‘The joy of being able to do internships, for example, is that you can check out different organisations and see which type of culture you fit into.’

Along with allowing you to compare different working environments, internships are also your prime opportunity to gain formal work experience before graduating.

Bolster your CV while at university

Gaining work experience as an undergraduate student is key to getting your STEM career off to the best start. Completing internships or other formal work experience is the ideal way to do this, but our student panellists also have some other tips.

Eunice, an aerospace engineering student at the University of Liverpool, says that if you have no work experience, you should consider initiatives specifically designed to give you your first taste. She recommends Forage, an organisation which gives virtual insights into working life. However, you may be able to find other, similar initiatives by asking your careers service or tutor.

For mechanical engineering student Rachel, formal work experience is important, but you can also bolster your CV by demonstrating the transferrable skills gained from extracurricular activities. ‘For example, you can mention teamworking skills if you play for the university hockey team or the organisational skills gained from playing in the orchestra,’ she says. ‘What employers want to see is how you take what you’ve learned from the experiences that you have had.’

Network yourself into work

Securing STEM work experience while still at university was made harder throughout 2020 and 2021, thanks largely to the Covid-19 pandemic. Katie and Paris now give their two cents on how recent STEM graduates, whose CVs may be a little light on work experience, can get a foot in the door.

Paris’ advice is to ‘leverage the network you built while at university. There’s your alumni network but also your careers services.’ It’s also common practice for universities to allow graduate alumni to use their career services for a fixed period of time after graduating.

She goes on to explain how, through these networks, you may find that you have a personal connection with someone now in industry or who knows somebody in industry and can vouch for you.

Katie suggests speaking with smaller employers. ‘Reach out to smaller organisations via email and ask if they have anything available that matches your skills set – that’s actually how I landed one of my internships,’ she says. This is known as applying speculatively and you can learn how to make speculative applications by reading to this article.

Even if a speculative application doesn’t lead to a role, you may be put in contact with another employer. In the worst case, you’ll gain more confidence in contacting employers, something which can come in handy at any stage of your career.

Bring up ‘women in STEM’ the right way

If you have a fierce desire to advocate for a stronger female presence in STEM, do you mention this during a job application process or when speculatively reaching out to employers?

Katie and Paris’ next tip is to only explicitly mention the issues around ‘women in STEM’ if you can also provide evidence of how you’re personally involved with the cause.

An employer is unlikely to mark you down for simply mentioning the topic but, according to our engineer panellists, it’s best to do so in a context that further demonstrates skills and experience.

For example, if you’ve taken part in an all-female engineering project, then this is your chance to demonstrate your advocacy for the cause backed up by practical engineering experience. Talking about ‘women in STEM’ in general terms without an example of skills or experience would be ‘cliché,’ as both Katie and Paris put it.

Look to role models and find a mentor

Role models can be an excellent source of inspiration throughout your career, and Anjali, a material science and engineering student, is vocal about finding yourself one.

She looks up to one of her female course mates from the year above who stepped in to take the lead on a hyperloop transportation project. ‘She’s a complete inspiration. She believed in me and encouraged me to become the project’s sub-team lead after I initially wasn’t going to.’

Anjali’s role model helped her to gain the confidence to become a team leader; an experience from which she’ll gain leadership and project-management skills that can be taken forward into the world of work.

Eunice advocates finding a mentor and says this can be particularly beneficial to help decide which STEM job to pursue after graduation. She has previously used STEMettes, an organisation that finds female STEM students a mentor in industry – but make sure to go to your careers service first, as most universities will run a mentoring scheme.

‘I have a mentor at BAE systems and another working for Mercedes. They’ve helped me to decide which side of engineering I’d like to go to in the future,’ she adds.

Don’t let imposter syndrome take over

Whether you’re a student, graduate employee or years into your career, anybody can experience a bout of imposter syndrome, and some more often than others.

So what do Katie, in the early stage of her career, and Paris, a decade into her career, have to say about dealing with this?

Paris chimes in with some honest advice. ‘I have three degrees in engineering and have worked in the automotive industry for ten years and I get imposter syndrome. But the way to fix it is to talk about it with colleagues,’ she says.

Katie agrees, adding that, ‘Being open and asking questions about the things you’re struggling to understand will allow you to overcome them.’

Discover careers advice from two women in engineering

Katie, a software engineer at Arm, and Paris, an applications engineer at Cummins, share their advice for STEM career success when you finish your degree and beyond. Important topics include:

  • Overcoming imposter syndrome
  • Tips for successful careers in STEM
  • Getting into STEM careers with a humanities background
  • Industry efforts to bring more women into STEM
  • The importance of women working in male-dominated industries.
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Two women in engineering share their top tips for STEM career success.

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