In the week of International Women’s Day celebrations, UWCSEA Dover's Library hosted a Women in STEM panel on 10 March organised by Girls in Stem, a UWCSEA student-led group, aimed at increasing female participation and engagement with STEM fields.
The panel included female professionals in a variety of STEM fields (including quantum computing, environmental engineering, manufacturing engineering, medical research, and more! Among these noted professionals was Dr Sujatha, a ‘99 alumnus of UWCSEA. Together with her panellists, the discussion highlighted the experiences of a variety of women in STEM, to inspire young High School girls to pursue STEM careers.
Check out some of the great advice Dr Sujatha contributed to the panel!
Do you believe that companies should reserve a number of seats for women?
My view is that quota systems are usually forced and neither genders benefit from this. Companies should generally review their hiring policies to identify why if any differences are noted in certain positions/ fields and try to understand why such gaps arise and look to see what can be done to fill them.
Have you had anyone who has told you that you cannot go into STEM and how did you handle it?
I was told to consider my options before considering the field due to the heavy hours required and lifelong learning that comes with my speciality. I was constantly reminded that I will always struggle to balance my work and life. I don’t think men are even asked to think about that. I did think pretty hard and realised that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I also learnt from strong role models like my mum who worked and studied and managed her family, all at the same time.
Do you believe that working in STEM is worth it?
Definitely – I couldn’t imagine doing anything else!
After leaving UWCSEA, which is a very inclusive environment, was it jarring to face so many obstacles for your race or gender?
I think when I was in UWCSEA, I left feeling like the world was a ‘happy’ place where I could do a lot and achieve leaps and bounds and I was ready to do all this on a fair platform. Once you’re out in the real world, you come across such biases and unfair assumptions due to people’s backgrounds/ experiences. I felt very upset being thrown into such situations, but what got me through is realising that it is my duty to make these people who are unaware or misguided realise their ignorance. I need to take the baby steps to help them change their views. People in ‘so-called first-world countries’ still have such backwards views of what an Asian female may aspire to be or do. People were very quick to pass judgement about my background or my religious beliefs or make assumptions as to what I am, based on the colour of my skin or my passport. I needed to push that little bit harder and prove my worth than my other colleagues, be it male or female to earn the respect of my peers or seniors.
How did you know what to specialise in such a large field of work like STEM?
I would say this is by trial and error. You need to try different things and see what draws your interest the most. Naturally, you will be interested in that and hopefully identify what you’re passionate about. Sometimes this comes about by trying things you think you wouldn’t like - you’d surprise yourself.
Do you believe that companies have a societal responsibility to ensure that women are able to work and have a child/children?
Increasingly, awareness and inclusion of this responsibility are being incorporated in many companies. It has taken a long while for people to see that is considered one of the basic rights of most working women.
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