Even while women continue to make significant gains in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, many are still encountering obstacles in their career trajectories. Several women leaders in Federal government STEM fields offered advice from their own experiences at a March 1 virtual event hosted by ATARC on how to overcome challenges they have faced.

Jothi Dugar, chief information security officer for Information Security at the National Institutes of Health, said women entering the STEM fields must remember five basic steps.

“You need to find a mentor that can serve as your guiding hand, explore every corner of the field, be aware of the skills you possess that make you an asset, think outside the box when considering employment opportunities, and always expand on your soft skills,” she said.

Dugar added that once in the workforce, women must communicate, collaborate, and keep providing opportunities to newcomers.

Carole House, director for Cybersecurity and Secure Digital Innovation at the White House  National Security Council Staff, addressed similar strategies. She said that one crucial skill in overcoming barriers has been her willingness and ability to communicate and collaborate.

“Some may say because the STEM field is competitive that you should keep your ideas well-guarded. But I believe that bringing effective communication and collaboration to a job only adds value to the work that you do,” House said.

Nakia Grayson, IT Security Specialist for the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, agreed with House, saying that connecting and collaborating produces new ideas and solutions.

Grayson also said a key skill she learned was confidence. As a woman in a largely male-dominated environment, Grayson explained how she felt pressure to be perfect in her work. But that kind of thinking, she explained, leads to many women not taking risks in employment opportunities.

“There is a lack of confidence we feel because we fear failure,” Grayson said. “And because of this when looking and applying for opportunities we doubt ourselves because we may not meet 100 percent of the requirements. But we need to move past this and ask for what we want when we know we can get the job done and bring value to an organization at the same time.”

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.