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Women pursuing STEM careers: Trust in your ability

By Gitte F. Schmidt Severinsen, Specialist,
Accenture Technology, Copenhagen

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As a female engineer with a degree in mathematical modeling and computing, I often have found that people I meet are surprised when I tell them what I do.

Most people do not expect words like theoretical mathematics, software engineering and technology consulting when they first see me. I do not mind this at all. I like surprising people and the response is always positive.

There is also a general impression that I must have a lot of male colleagues who are a bit nerdy. Here they are right, but it is a great part of why I love my job.

Most of my colleagues are men, but I am used to working in a male heavy environment from my time at university, so I don’t think about it that much.

I started university studying civil engineering, but soon discovered my passion was within the field of mathematics, so I transferred. I needed that year as a civil engineering student to realize that applied mathematics and computing was indeed right for me.

I always knew that I loved mathematics, but taking the step and making it my career path was not immediately obvious to me. I did not spend my teenage years behind a computer learning to code–I spent them on a sports field.

“Differences in age, background, experience and, most importantly, in the way we think and approach tasks are all relevant diversity factors.”

I worried it might be too technical for me. Once I made the switch, I discovered that I was more than able to keep up academically. I finished university with an honors degree and with the highest grade average possible, and now work as technology consultant.

For me, diversity is not only about diversity of gender, it is also–and more importantly–about diversity of thought.

In most respects, my team at Accenture is diverse. I currently work as a project manager, and my team mainly consists of business analysts, developers and technical architects. Differences in age, background, experience and, most importantly, in the way we think and approach tasks are all relevant diversity factors.

“Differences in age, background, experience and, most importantly, in the way we think and approach tasks are all relevant diversity factors.”

Working with inspiring and talented people, from whom I can learn, is the best part of my job. In our team, we take advantage of this diversity by discussing new tasks or issues in a group setting before deciding on next steps. Looking at a problem from as many angles as possible helps us to identify the right solution in the end.

That being said, I do believe more gender diversity will automatically give us greater diversity of thought. It’s my impression that women generally tend to approach problems differently than men. It is a shame that the industry misses out on the talents that are hiding in women who do not pursue a career in technology.

When I finished university it was important to me to find a job where I could continue to grow, and that allowed me the everyday flexibility to do the things I enjoy besides work. I found that balance.

There is no doubt my number one priority in life is my friends and family, but that does not mean I need to compromise my career goals. I rarely bring work home. I think my determination not to do so is the key to me being focused, efficient and successful at work.

My advice for young women aspiring for a career in mathematics, engineering or technology is to just go for it. Let go of the desire to be in control. Fight the fear of failure. Trust in your ability to learn once you dive into it.

When people are surprised at what we do, take it as a compliment and be proud that you are helping to change the widespread impression that technology is only for geeky guys. The geeks are there, but many of us are women.

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