Bring your own table: Advice from local women leaders in STEM

3rd Annual Chicago Women in STEM Symposium

“Who run the world?” Almost all of us know the answer to that question. Beyoncé’s unapologetic message promotes female empowerment. Yet, women everywhere struggle to be leaders in their own right. The Chicago Women in STEM initiative sought to provide leadership guidance to our ever-growing base of women professionals. ‘Advancing Tomorrow’s Women Leaders’ was about bringing together women at different stages of their careers showing us how they built themselves up from the ground and are paving the way for other women.

Monica Vajani and Dr. Preeti Chalsani, both hammered home the point that career paths are rarely linear and knowing how to adapt is what defines you as a leader. Leadership comes in different forms and not just with a title. Leading by example not only helps you but helps the people around you. Dr. Dominique Carter reminded us that we need to actively take up space. Often, women hesitate to actively take credit for their accomplishments, but we shouldn’t minimize ourselves for the convenience of others. Everyone deserves to be at the table and if you aren’t given a seat, bring your own table.

What about those who struggle to have a voice? This is where mentors and, more importantly, sponsors come into play. ‘Lift as you climb’ as Dominique put it. As a mentor you provide advice and passive support when asked. As a sponsor you actively speak for your protégé. Promoting protégés increases their visibility and strengths. This potentially will prevent women from being discouraged to take up careers in STEM and fix the “leaky” STEM pipeline responsible for seeing fewer women in leadership roles. Dr. Beth McNally highlighted the importance of having your allies and I can personally vouch for how important it is to have your circle of trust. These are the people who keep you honest and lift you up when the chips are down. Our keynote speaker, Jhaymee Tynan, did a fine job of not only reiterating the points made by the previous speakers but adding key management skills. My personal favorite skill – six hours of networking a week. This highlights the importance of being active when it comes to personal and professional development because your success will never be handed to you. You have to know your value and show your value. Aptly stated by Ban Ki-Moon, former UN Secretary-General, “The world will never realize 100% of its goals if 50% of its people cannot realize their full potential. When we unleash the power of women, we can secure the future for all.”

Written by Sumitra D. Mitra, Ph.D.

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