Sally-Ann Williams worked at Google for more than 12 years, and was a founding partner of our Careers with STEM: Code magazines. Her next role will be as chief executive at Cicada Innovations, a company that supports tech start-ups. In the below article, Sally – a pioneer and an advocate for women in STEM – reflects on her career as a woman in an industry with a notorious gender gap.
In my job, I am often the only woman in the room – and I know many women who work in technology and other STEM fields have experienced this too. But that’s not how things should be.
There are many factors behind the shortage of women in tech jobs. Some say it’s because girls don’t have the confidence to study STEM subjects at school, others blame gender stereotypes (for both boys and girls), or point out that there aren’t enough female role models – you can’t be what you can’t see!
Whatever the reason (and there has been a lot of research on this topic), the issue won’t go away as long as there remains an overall shortage of women working in technology, research and STEM-related fields.
“They thought I was there to make the tea and coffee”
The numbers show there’s still a big gender gap in STEM – a 2018 report found that only one in four Australian IT graduates and just 27 per cent of everyone working in STEM are women.
And of the women who do work in STEM, many don’t stay for long – 31 per cent said they expected to leave their profession within five years. Sixty per cent said there were fewer women than men in their workplace in senior management roles.
I remember early in my career walking into a meeting where I was the only woman in a room filled with people who didn’t know me yet, and who were a lot older than me. At first, they thought I was there to make the tea and coffee or take notes!
In those early days of my career I thought I should stay quiet and just listen. But then someone encouraged me to speak up by introducing me as an expert on a topic – and from then on I realised I needed to take action. By speaking out and sharing my own point of view, I didn’t just help myself, I created a space for a whole new group of people to speak out as well.
Finding role models and mentors
Growing up, I couldn’t have imagined the opportunities that would be available to me, let alone where my career would eventually lead.
Finding a role model is important in any career, but especially for women in STEM. Not all role models need to be famous or well-known. Every single person can, and should be, a role model for somebody else. To find your career role models, figure out what you care about and see who else is working in that area – you can start with these Women in STEM profiles.
When I started working at Google more than 12 years ago, I met Maggie Johnson, the vice-president of education and university programs. She became my mentor – all because I needed advice on a challenge. Since then Maggie has encouraged me to pursue opportunities, to step outside my comfort zone, and to take more risks. Maggie helps my self-esteem and encourages me to face my fears. Failure is a part of the journey to success in science and in life – sometimes you just need to have the courage to go for it!
Five years ago, I attended my first Grace Hopper Celebration – a big gathering of women in tech, hosted by an organisation called AnitaB.org. It was such an amazing experience being surrounded by more than 20,000 smart, talented and driven women. The number of experts who were there to connect, support and encourage one another was an experience I’ll never forget.
Building these types of communities is now a passion for me. I am one of the founding members bringing the same event – called “Hopper Down Under” – to Australia this year for the first time ever. (Enter for the chance to win a full delegate pass, worth $900 here!)
We all have lessons to learn from one another and it’s important to look for friends with similar goals as well as mentors and role models to inspire and support us to follow our dreams.
Find more inspiring Women in STEM role models here
Author: STEM Contributor
This article was written by a STEM Contributor for Careers with STEM. To learn more, please visit our contact page.