According to National Girls Collaboration Project, women make up on 28 percent of the STEM field. In an industry where the perception is that it is dominated by men, how did you get into a STEM career? Is there a specific moment that made this career path click as what you wanted to do?
My introduction to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) was in some ways unique from other women in the industry. From an early age, my neighbor became my unofficial mentor, opening my eyes to the possibilities of a career in STEM. Her role as a production engineer helped me understand the different aspects of the industry, such as where oil and gas came from and how we use their derivatives in our everyday lives. This was especially important to me as the community I grew up in did not have many women pursuing the career path I wanted so I am thankful for my neighbor who inspired me to do well in my STEM classes.
Then during one of my internships, I was fortunate to be paired up with a senior female manager who guided me through hands-on experience. She taught me that it was critical to have a solid foundation in field operations in order to provide informed recommendations that would improve our processes and create greater efficiency. Additionally, I was inspired that she was able to successfully transition from being an engineer to a reliability and improvement manager, while also having a family and an active full-time role in ministry – opening a world of possibilities for myself.
Tell us about your background and how it prepared you for your current role?
Growing up in a military family with my father being active in the field, I often needed to tackle problems on my own. This allowed me to become self-reliant and independent and subsequently, I grew to really enjoy troubleshooting and problem-solving. Whenever my father was deployed, as the oldest child, he would put me in charge of my brothers which meant I needed to become creative to find ways to keep them safe, while also being a good role model for them.
I now see the traits I learned through my upbringing – resilience, troubleshooting, ability to work with others, problem-solving, etc. – actively presenting themselves in my both my past and current roles. In fact, thinking back on it now, it has been instrumental in my success professionally. I’ve learned that life is one of the best teachers we can have and often times, unknowingly, prepares us for the future.
What is the biggest barrier that young girls face when considering a career in STEM?
In my opinion, the biggest barrier that young girls face when considering a career in STEM is the stereotype that it is a “man’s job.” For example – maybe without realizing that society is doing this – young girls are often pushed toward toys such as dolls or kitchen sets, while young boys are given cars and trucks. This can subconsciously cause young women to adapt to this stereotype, which has been shown to have a lasting impact on the talent pipeline and the advancement of science-based fields. One way I believe we can increase the representation of women in STEM is to better recognize the contributions of those currently in the field. Additionally, everyone from the STEM industry to teachers and parents or even the media should help modify the traditional stereotype that only a certain type of people are a fit for STEM careers through simple methods like advertisements with female engineers, doctors, astronauts, technologist, professors, or better representation at career fairs.
Often times, it is easier for young women to aspire for success when they are able to see someone who looks like them achieve impressive accomplishments and be celebrated for it.
This is why I dedicate time to reach out to minority groups by speaking at conferences, participating in speed mentoring programs and volunteering in STEM activities to inspire others to achieve their dreams. Shell has a great, comprehensive network of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives that have a tremendous impact on young minority students. I’m active in Shell’s partnerships with Great Minds in STEM and the National Society of Black Engineers, organizations dedicated to providing underserved students with the opportunity to pursue their dreams in STEM. In fact, I was once told by a student that seeing me volunteer has motivated her to continue pursuing a path in STEM. It’s moments like these that make me believe that in life the little things we do can go a far way in inspiring others to dream – and dream big.
Throughout your educational and professional career, have there been any influential women that have helped you get to where you are?
Throughout my personal life and professional career, I’ve been blessed to have influential women around me. First, my neighbor helped spark an interest in STEM while pushing me to work harder in school. Then in college, I had an internship with a petro-chemical company and my supervisor was a female engineer, who was the first to show me how to balance work with your personal life, while excelling at both. At Shell, I am grateful to have been mentored by several remarkable ladies that believed in me and taught me how to stay true to my values. Having these influential women in my career has made a world of difference. They’ve shown me the ropes, potential challenges and how to navigate pathways while seeing each of them individually achieve major accomplishments has inspired me to be flexible, hardworking, and to always challenge myself. It is important for women to support women and I intend to pay it forward to make it easier for the younger generation.
What would be your advice to a little girl reading this interview who may be interested in pursuing a career in STEM?
I would encourage young girls, regardless of whether they are pursuing a career in STEM, to believe in themselves. Throughout my life, I have been lucky that those around me, from my father to neighbors and later on colleagues and mentors, have supported me and instilled a sense of self-belief. This confidence has made a world of difference when pursuing my dreams. Surround yourself with people that believes in you and support your ambitions.
Additionally, always pursue more opportunities and develop a learner’s mindset – even if it pushes you out of your comfort zone. Whether it is summer programs or internships, this will allow you to learn more about your field of interest and understand the possibilities. It’ll also give you the chance to network and build a circle of friends that have similar interest, while also potentially building a mentorship relationship with an older student or STEM professional.
What are some challenges that women in STEM face that their typical male counterparts might not face? What change would you suggest to address this?
There are many challenges that women in STEM face on a daily basis that they must overcome in order to excel. However, for me the largest are: stereotypes, salary gaps and lack of mentors/sponsors. Women play a vital role in STEM as we bring different perspectives that enhance overall productivity and innovation. Yet, in my opinion our male counterparts may not fully understand the challenges we go through. Therefore, I feel it would be beneficial for more senior male leaders to mentor and sponsor females. This allyship approach would help male leaders understand how to relate with females, understand our challenges and help us overcome any barriers.
In-line with this I feel that we need to place a greater emphasis on providing more purposeful training and mentorship for women, as well as more promotions for those who deserve it. This can help debunk the stereotype that certain roles can only be filled by males.
As companies continue to place an increased emphasis on diversity in their workforce, what would be your advice to a business leader improve upon DE&I?
I think it’s great to see more companies, especially global entities like Shell, making DE&I a priority. However, simply because the industry has made some strides, does not mean we should stop focusing on empowering women.
My advice to business leaders is to keep it simple by setting SMART goals, putting effective programs in place to achieve them and to let the DE&I optics speak for themselves.
What’s next for you?
Career-wise, my next role will most likely be an integrator, as I would like to follow my passion for bringing people of different disciplines together to solve a common problem. In tandem, I am continuing my education to facilitate my dreams of establishing a non-profit community empowerment center which will provide mentorship and college guidance to the younger generation and minorities. Fortunately, Shell allows me to both work in the field I love and to impact the lives of younger children through their DE&I partnerships.
What is the best way for our readers to contact/connect with you?
I can be found on LinkedIn here. I’d encourage any young women who are interested in STEM to reach out with their questions and I’ll do my best to help every person I can.