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How to Survive When You’re Always the Lone Female Engineer

The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “Why is a background in STEM important for shaping female leaders?” is written by Anuja Ketan, chief technology officer of Zillion.

Throughout my career, I’m often asked what it’s like to be a woman working in technology. Given that the industry is predominantly male, I can understand why this question arises time and again.

In the technology field, women are grossly underrepresented, not because they are incapable of excelling in careers in science, technology, engineering and math, but because they are either not given the opportunity to pursue a science-oriented education or they are made to feel like they would be unsuccessful. According to recent research, around 40% of women leave their profession in these fields or never enter them. In order to change this, we need to instill confidence in girls from a very young age that they are just as capable of achieving success in a STEM career as anyone else.

While many young women may develop a natural interest in STEM, few have people in their life who actively support and encourage that interest and curiosity. I was fortunate enough to come from a family that supported my educational path and instilled in me the confidence to pursue the career I was most passionate about. In particular, my brother, who is a nuclear physicist, and my sister, a microbiologist, were both extremely influential in fostering my interest in science and technology, encouraging me to participate in science related courses early in my education. Not everyone had the luxuries I had.

For those young students who may not have the same support system at home, I would encourage them take charge of their own education. Get involved in STEM programs at school, join science and technology clubs, meet with teachers for extra school projects, spend any free time in the library reading books on the topics that interest you. With or without support, proactively seeking out opportunities to further your education is the key to success.

Once I got to college, I found that there were very few women in my engineering program. It felt strange to be so underrepresented, and made me realize the importance of having a support system that encouraged me to follow my passion.

This support shouldn’t only come from family and friends, but from teachers and school systems as well. Young women need to be taught to believe that they are capable of becoming logical thinkers, problem solvers, and part of the next generation of technology leaders. This message is so critical because the skills acquired through critical thinking and analysis are fundamental to any career path.

As CTO of Zillion, my team and I are asked to problem solve every single day. Whether it’s a relatively minor customer issue, or something more substantial like identifying a gap in the market that no one has been able to fill, problem solving, critical thinking and interpersonal skills are at the crux of what I do on a daily basis. These skills have shaped my career and continue to help me to be a stronger leader within my organization.

My advice to young women in pursuit of their career goals, particularly those interested in STEM, is to be fearless. There may be stereotypes or preconceived notions about what role women should play in the workforce, but those should have no bearing on your professional aspirations. Work hard, take

the courses that interest you, ask questions, surround yourself with people who inspire you and encourage your intellectual curiosity. The problem solving skills and lessons you learn through STEM courses will help you in all aspects of your life, not just professionally.

Once you realize you’re capable of whatever you set your mind to, the sky’s the limit.