On April 9, 2020, IGNITE Worldwide was honored to host a virtual panel featuring four talented, driven women in STEM! 30 girls/non-binary students attended from grades 5 through college.
The panel was moderated by Beth Kester-Warner, a Recruiting Manager at ExtraHop. Beth described how women and nonbinary people are highly underrepresented in STEM fields, yet these careers are some of the fastest-growing and best-paying jobs available. The girls were asked to guess the expected salary of a software engineer (more than double the average American salary!) and the percentage of engineers who are women (only 13%). They were very accurate in their guesses, but these numbers help show how important it is for more girls to pursue STEM!
All of the panelists were excited to share their experiences and advice.
Kendrick Umstattd, a software engineer working at Google in the Maps division, shared that it’s okay to not know what careers you’re interested in. In high school, she learned to think of computer programming as a puzzle, rather than just math. After graduating Yale with a degree in Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, Kendrick moved to Seattle to work at Google. She enjoys working with Women of Silicon Valley, an organization more bound by field than geographic location. Kendrick emphasized the importance of knowing both your own interests and personal value.
Eva Tseng, a senior manager at T-Mobile, told the girls of her unorthodox path into the field of computer science. While growing up in Taiwan, she wanted a career in advertising or marketing. She later came to understand that she also is excited by math and data. She chose to work at T-Mobile, where she gets to merge these interests and plays a leading role in website optimization and online marketing. She stressed the importance of open-mindedness and the potential for combining different interests to forge your own path and find something you love!
Rinu Budhbhatti is a senior software developer at Grab Technology, a midsized ridesharing company based in Southeast Asia. She got into STEM because of her older sister, but quickly learned to love it! She is grateful that she gets to help people all over the world, and especially during the current pandemic with services like emergency transportation and food delivery. Rinu echoed Kendrick in that software engineering should be viewed as a puzzle rather than strictly mathematical, and that it’s very valuable to be able to recognize and solve problems.
The facilitator, Beth Kester-Warner, also shared her story. Beth works as a recruiter, so she hires people like the other three panelists, and she has been interested for a long time in diversification of the workplace. She works to help companies hire the right people, and she underscored the importance of having a diverse workforce to increase overall experience, productivity, and retention. She said that talking to people in different careers is the best way to learn about those careers – which is one reason she values IGNITE! Beth told the girls to not be afraid to fail and to always want to learn.
The girls then asked a variety of thought-provoking questions, and the panelists shared their advice.
One topic was what skills are looked at favorably from a Human Resources/hiring perspective. The panelists mentioned soft skills could be applied to any job, like curiosity, willingness to learn and work hard, confidence, and being able to respond positively to constructive criticism. They also recommended cultivating hobbies and exploring many different subjects. A couple students asked for advice about pursing specific subjects, and the panelists emphasized open-mindedness and a firm sense of self worth in whatever you do, and that the key to finding a happy career is exploring and learning what you enjoy and not being afraid to follow it!
The speakers were also honest about challenges they have faced. They shared that traditional gender roles often pressure women into an unhealthy work-life balance, and underrepresentation can be psychologically taxing. But they also noted that the tech industry in general values diversity and that there are a lot of people around to provide support and collaborate with! They wanted the girls to know that they are not alone and encouraged them to find friends and mentors. The speakers also highlighted that these jobs are very rewarding because of the huge impact they have on people all around the world! The they all love the feeling of doing good and being valued.
The students took away a lot of knowledge and inspiration! A huge THANK YOU to Beth Kester-Warner, Kendrick Umstattd, Eva Tseng, and Rinu Budhbhatti for sharing your stories and advice, and thank you to everyone for participating!
After attending this event:
Here’s what the students thought of the event:
“I enjoyed hearing about all of the panelists’ journeys to their jobs and professions in STEM. It inspired me that even though they all had different paths, they made it to where they are by self-drive and teaching themselves.” – 7th grade
“I enjoyed getting to talk to women who are in the Stem career because until now I never really knew what it was like working as an engineer as a woman, only knew they did “exist” but never meeting someone who has the same passion as me actually working at their dream job.” – 8th grade
“The reminder to try my best and find my passion.” – 10th grade
“I enjoyed learning about the different experiences the speakers went through.” – 12th grade
“I loved hearing the interesting stories and background of these women and the challenges they faced.” – IGNITE Alum
“I was inspired about how many careers there are.” – 6th grade
“The different ideas, my question was answered and I loved the way each of them answered it.” – 12th grade
“Panelists’ in depth answers to questions.” – 8th grade
“I enjoyed the interactive surveys.” – 11th grade
“As a Career Specialist, I loved seeing professional women embracing this change we are currently experiencing, setting a great example for our young women, and really adding to their stories.” – IGNITE Teacher