February 8, 2020
I didn’t, until last week. While I am delighted that the world is finally actively encouraging girls and women, or at least not slamming the door on them, I hope that eventually, maybe soon, female representation in STEM will be so commonplace, we will have forgotten why we need to call out a special day to promote it. Then we can just have an International Day of Science.
I chose a career in STEM because I really enjoyed, and excelled at math and physics. The logic and ration of science appealed to me, so I headed off in the direction of pure and applied science, and then a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. I love the art of solving problems and understanding how things work. For most of my career, I have been working in a B2B setting, for companies developing and delivering capital equipment solutions: cleaning and forming systems for paper machines, overhead cranes for material handling solutions, diesel and gas engine power generation systems and finally, wind turbines and power plant solutions. This last chapter in wind power provides a strong sense of purpose and meaning to my daily work. It provides me with an opportunity to be an active part of building that clean and sustainable environment for my children, while pursuing my own field of interest.
When I began along this path, it was right after the massacre at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989, when 14 young women were murdered because they dared to take their place alongside men in the Faculty of Engineering. Young and idealistic, this provided directivity and motivation behind my choices. I am proud to have been part of the change we see in the workplace, often merely by being present. Often, I was the only woman in the room, and sometimes my presence and capabilities were even openly questioned. I was happy to walk away from those occasions with not only acknowledgement of my right to be there, but also an apology from the person having doubted it in the first place. I can only hope this opened minds and thus doors for those women who followed. There has been a period in my life when I have listened to those voices of doubt, and have doubted myself, but I have learned that the cornerstone to anyone’s success is to believe in yourself and once that is in place, then people tend to follow you in that belief.
With more and more women entering STEM, we are beginning to create a sense of normalcy to the presence and excellence of women in these traditionally male dominated fields. Hopefully, soon, we will not have to highlight individual women for their unusual success, but rather celebrate them the same as we would anyone for their accomplishments regardless of gender (or skin colour or religion or sexual orientation or any other parameter of human diversity).
There are many career paths that originate in a STEM education, and that remain in STEM activities, but bridge to and combine with different disciplines, such as procurement, sales, and product and innovation management. The latter is where my career has led me, and I love it because of the combination of several disciplines including economics, customer and human behaviour, strategy, AND technology – it is all underpinned by those fundamental science and engineering principles that attracted me to STEM in the first place.
In the 4th industrial revolution, we will see the combination and blending of technologies and domains increasingly as we go forward, creating new specialities, new technologies, and new disciplines that we cannot even begin to conceive of right now. A basis in STEM will prepare anyone for the future, as long as that person is prepared to learn, grow, and adapt with an openness to lifelong learning.