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MSEM at the Museum of Science: Empowering Women in STEM

Tufts Gordon Institute is pleased to announce an exciting, new partnership with the Museum of Science, beginning last night with an event geared to “Women in STEM: Getting What You Deserve”. The event, held in the museum’s Skyline room with a scenic vista of the Charles River, featured a live panel of high-powered women, a candid Q&A session, and even engaging networking activities.

Susan Heilman, Program Manager of Community Initiatives for the Museum of Science, and Sarah Stockwell, Manager of External Relations at Tufts Gordon Institute, kicked off the evening with an overview of both organizations’ missions and what the empowerment of women means to them. From there, they handed the reins to Stacy Heen Lennon, TGI’s expert on Leadership & Conflict Resolution, to moderate the main panel discussion.

The panel was made up of four diverse women in a variety of STEM fields, all interconnected by their statuses as alumnae of the M.S. in Engineering Management program:

  • Syra Arif – Senior Advisory Security Solutions Architect, ServiceNow
  • Marta Asack – Global Director of Program Management & Business Operations, Sensata Technologies
  • Lana Luo – Systems Engineering Manager, GE Aviation
  • Lisa Wyman – Vice President of Quality, Acceleron Pharma

Before diving into questions for the panel, Stacy presented two very distinct “word clouds” to the audience. When signing up on the event registration site, attendees were prompted to submit in two separate fields how they thought they were supposed to feel about self-advocacy as well as how they actually felt. Seeing the clouds side-by-side sent a clear message. The “should feel” side was full of adjectives like capable, confident and unfazed; the “actually feel” side was made up of terms like awkward, hesitant, and nervous.

When Stacy asked the featured panelists how they each recognized that they were even capable of negotiating for themselves, this sentiment carried through into their answers. None of the panelists were innately confident in their ability to speak up and ask for recognition, promotions or increased salary. “I always thought that if I did a good job, I’d get the next job,” shared Marta. That turned out to not be the case for her. “Until I took matters into my own hands, I didn’t move forward.” She strongly recommended guests in the audience find a mentor to be a sounding board for their questions and professional needs. Lana echoed this message, discussing the importance of mentor relationships to open doors and opportunities as a “circle of sponsorship”.

Women in STEM panel reviews 2 word clouds about self-advocacy

Lisa had a similar experience, always assuming that being top talent would get her recognized and rewarded. When her company went through five mergers and acquisitions in quick succession, she realized the importance of speaking up for herself in order to survive the next company reorganization; being just another employee statistic on a piece of paper in Human Resources wouldn’t be enough to stand out. “I got the guts to speak up because I felt alone,” said Lisa. She too recommended peer support both in and outside one’s own company, suggesting that the audience not “let [their] inner voice stifle [their] career growth.”

The conversation then turned to the panelists’ experiences with gender biases in the workplace. Had they encountered this? If so, how did they handle it? It turns out they definitely had.

Syra shared a personal anecdote about other colleagues, particularly men, often speaking over her in meetings. After a heart-to-heart conversation with her father, she was encouraged to strengthen her own confidence and mindset. She urged the audience to do the same, saying, “If you truly want a seat at the table... That doesn’t mean you have to change who you are, but you have to put yourself out there.”

Both Lisa and Marta disclosed their own personal struggles with working against the stereotype that working mothers aren’t truly invested in their roles and careers. Lisa candidly spoke out about having to advocate for herself in order to keep her personal life out of the workplace, combating biases about motherhood that were preventing her from the career growth she desired. She went on to say that she’s “learned to ask for help” and is constantly renegotiating with her husband on what’s important to their family. Marta agreed, advising the audience to “do what’s right for [their] own situation” since no outside perspective can truly know what the right decision is for others.

Stacy then shifted the conversation to yet another tricky topic: What are the keys to success when asking for a raise? Setting the stage, she cited that statistically women struggle more with self-advocacy than their male counterparts, however, women tend to be less afraid to advocate on behalf on others.

Despite her success in climbing the corporate ladder thus far, Lisa revealed that she only negotiated compensation for the first time within the last year. She cited the pay gap discussion in today’s society as the driving factor in her realization that negotiation is a necessity. After attending two salary negotiation workshops, she had to “try not to be shy or back down” and used online tools to set a benchmark of what to ask for, albeit understanding that negotiation and compromise would be needed from both sides. Before her interview, she actually practiced key phrases in the mirror to channel confidence, including that she “hoped they recognized the value” in her expertise. Despite her preparation, Lisa admitted that “it was really awkward during the process, but [she] was pretty damn proud to get that offer letter”.

Syra then shared a more informal approach to asking for a raise, letting casual conversations plant the seed of wanting increased compensation and title. She shared frankly her personal perspective: “It’s 2019. We [in the Millennial generation] are not as formal. We want to have friends and have a natural progression in our career from the friendships we make”. In response to an audience question on tactics for negotiating with women versus men, she reinforced her strategy of befriending people so that “they remember [her] as an ally”. Plus, “the more comfortable you get with people, the easier the conversations can be”.

Across the variety of challenging topics and questions that arose during the evening’s discussion, one common thread kept emerging: Everyone, regardless of gender identity, is responsible for their own development, career plan, and satisfaction. By strengthening one’s own inner voice and taking command of their personal & professional journey, they can get in the driver’s seat and direct their own path.

Stay tuned for more exciting events in the Women in STEM series over the next year!