Ever wonder what it takes to get to the top of a male-dominated field? For the growing number of groundbreaking women in STEM, the answer boils down to a healthy mix of tenacity, confidence and teamwork.
To get more specific, three female executives at Kohler Co. sat down to discuss their career journeys and how their unique perspectives as women have been a major component of their achievements thus far. Their conversation boiled down to five pieces of advice that every woman in STEM could benefit from before starting down their road to self-defined career success. Already a STEM veteran? Keep reading—it’s never too late to learn something new.
1. Be brave.
Even today, women in many STEM fields know what it’s like to be the odd one out. Whether battling stereotypes in the office or speaking their opinions in the boardroom, being a woman in any male-dominated field requires bravery, often from day one.
Amy Meyer, Vice President of Technical Services, shared a story of her high school counselor who said math and engineering were too difficult for women to pursue and encouraged her to choose a different career path—despite the fact she was already accepted to Michigan Technological University.
Angela Barbee, Vice President of Engineering and New Product Development, Global Faucets, had a similar experience as a young woman in engineering; she was warned that she was going to have to “know her stuff” to prove herself in a male-dominated industry.
Obviously, the women’s success means they did what they had to do; they developed the confidence to chase their dreams, no matter what other people had to say.
“Step one was ‘be brave’,” Meyer said.
2. Realize you don’t need to have all the answers.
One thing that can easily destroy your confidence? Believing that you need to know everything and feeling disappointed when you don’t. Cynthia Bachmann, Vice President of Fixtures Engineering for Kitchen and Bath North America, discussed the pressure that women in male-dominated fields put on themselves to have all the answers, despite the fact that’s really not in their job description.
“Your job isn’t to have all the answers ... it’s to find the right question and then find the right answer,” Bachmann shared.
Barbee agreed, suggesting it’s a lot easier to be confident in yourself when you realize no one knows it all.
“When you start asking questions, you realize everyone is searching for the same answers,” Barbee said. “You realize no one has the answers.”
3. Bring your whole self to work and capitalize on your unique perspective.
Engineering requires a huge amount of creative problem solving and collaboration, something the women discussed at length. Diversity of perspective—and the importance of using your voice—was one tenet of teamwork and the creative process that came up time and time again.
Meyer argued that “engineering is all about a team.” She said you can answer math problems with a computer, but you can’t get into “the fun parts of engineering” without someone sitting next to you. That’s why having the confidence to jump into the discussion, offer your perspectives and ask questions is critical in engineering.
Barbee agreed. She said being confident and bringing your authentic self into your role are some of the most important things you can do as a woman in STEM.
“Sometimes we bring a different voice to the room,” she said. “Sometimes we’re standing alone—and that’s important.”
Meyer and Bachmann also discussed the importance of work-life balance in coming to work as your whole self, and the merits of self-knowledge in determining how you’ll balance your career and other aspects of your life.
Bachmann argued establishing boundaries between work and life “starts with you.”
“You have to put boundaries on your time… you need to be comfortable with how work-life will work for you,” she said. “They’re both really important and they become part of who you are."
4. Focus on gaining experience rather than worrying about being the “best.”
In your career, it is easy to fall into the trap of perfectionism. Wanting to be “the best,” or “the smartest” can mean putting your energy into the wrong priorities. Meyer said that in engineering, experience working with a team means more than “perfect” ever could.
“I don’t want to hire the smartest person every time,” she said. “I need to hire the person that can work with my team to lift the entire team ... You have to have an entry point, and that entry point is your grades are good enough.”
The other women agreed that having co-op or internship experience and proving your collaboration skills meant more to them than a 4.0 GPA. But this advice can extend beyond entering a STEM field. Focusing on making everything you say in a meeting or everything you write on paper perfect often means missing out on the opportunity to make mistakes. As mentioned earlier, asking questions often goes a lot further than trying to know all of the answers.
5. Find a company that supports and encourages women in STEM.
In male-dominated industries, finding an organization that supports and encourages you is critical to making the most out of your career. The women mentioned many ways Kohler Co. has prioritized women in STEM—and supported them in their career growth.
Bachmann shared that Kohler has determined 50% of their co-ops have to be women, and there have been years where female membership has been higher than 50%. Additionally, Bachmann said one reason she enjoys product development is the cross-functional nature of the work and ability to work with women across teams. She says female voices are continuously uplifted at Kohler, as evidenced by their female advisory board, which makes sure women’s opinions are involved in all product development.
Watch the women share their unique experiences and perspectives here.
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