Celebrating Women in STEM – in conversation with Eve Wallace

11 days ago by Andrew Farquharson
Eve Wallace Interview 1020

In recognition that 2020 is a year of deep reflection on ourselves and society we are engaging in conversations with a range of women across STEM careers to find out about their lived experiences. We want to understand and recognise that whilst female inclusivity and success in STEM careers has advanced greatly since Ada Lovelace’s time, there are still multiple barriers and challenges that women encounter throughout their careers. We hope by engaging in these conversations we can promote positive change and make STEM careers accessible for more women.

In this blog, we sat down with Eve Wallace, Chief Administration Officer for Technology, Glasgow at Morgan Stanley, to get her insights on a career in tech and how increasing gender diversity benefits everyone.

Q. Can you tell us a little about your background and career to date? What attracted you to the STEM sector and what do you think makes it a good place for women?

I graduated from Glasgow University with B.Acc (Hons) in 2003, following which I completed my CIMA exams as a Finance graduate trainee with a fast moving consumer goods organisation in London. After working primarily in the energy sector in multiple countries and roles, I returned to Glasgow in 2008 to work for Shell. Latterly, I was the company’s IT Finance Enterprise Lead, responsible for delivering the Financial Planning & Appraisal (FP&A) for Global Technology while leading a global team and a local community. Currently, I am the Chief Administration Officer for Technology, Glasgow at Morgan Stanley with responsibility for ensuring effective and efficient operations to meet strategic plans, while also being the sponsor for 3 pivotal groups in Glasgow: the Women in Technology (WIT) Network; which won Diversity Initiative of the Year 2019 at the Scotland Women in Tech (SWiT) Awards; Technology Campus Recruitment; and STEM Ambassadors.

Throughout my career, I’ve always had a strong affiliation and involvement with what are, fundamentally, the themes that underpin STEM. While not exhaustive, examples would include problem solving, striving to know how and why things work, imbued with a mindset of continuous improvement, the ability to think both logically and creatively, and challenging the status quo. Over the last 5+ years in particular, my appreciation of the importance of STEM, and particularly technology, has grown exponentially. But, while the breadth and depth of careers on offer is phenomenal, the quantity of those who pursue those careers is not. We need this to change.

The STEM sector is a great place for everyone. It has an ever expanding job market, a vast array of fascinating and challenging roles, affords participants the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of driving the future – and not at the mercy of it! – and promotes collaborative cultures. For women specifically, the industry often offers flexibility in how, where and when such roles are performed, giving some peace of mind to those who also bring carer or parental responsibilities with them. Indeed, a STEM sector that offers a broad range of challenging, engaging careers – with sought-after flexibility – will expand opportunities for individuals. However, the number of roles that offer part-time hours still has a way to go. But, hopefully this may evolve more rapidly as a result of the experiences gleaned during the pandemic this year.

Q. Is there a clear difference in your experiences of being a female in the sector at the beginning of your career and now?

When I was 21, I remember being the only female in a room of male engineers. I fortunately had advocates then, and many others since, to amplify my voice. While the importance of advocates has grown, what’s still lagging is critical mass on gender. Indeed, the STEM sector remains unrepresentative of society’s demographics, but even here there are many encouraging signs that a balancing is afoot to ensure opportunity and inclusion for all.

In terms of experience then vs. now, technology certainly feels like a less exclusive male preserve and women are progressing their careers with much more confidence. I have three further observations about how things have evolved since I started in the industry: [1] Competitiveness the overwhelming evidence that diverse organisations perform better and are more innovative has resulted in much broader commitments from senior leadership to support and drive change; [2] Visible Advocates & Role Modelssupporting female individuals, inspiring them and challenging any bias on their behalf; and [3] Empowerment enabled by positive self-esteem and other supportive factors, women increasingly, rightly, believe that they can pursue any career with decisions about progression being made fairly. These critical factors have vastly improved the experience of women entering the tech workforce, rendering my sometimes unflattering early-career impressions almost unrecognisable. Still, more strategic, structural reforms are required to break
down remaining barriers.

Q. If you were with a group of peers this evening and talking openly about this topic, what would be the key issues discussed?

It would be dominated by how we can support our young women - as STEM, with technology the most acutely affected, isn’t generally viewed as a fantastic career path. And that’s more than just a shame, because it negatively impacts the economic potential of not only aspiring women who have a lot to contribute but also organisations, companies and even society, which would so benefit.

What’s needed is an expansive ecosystem that consists of a more engaging, evolving education curriculum; higher numbers of inspiring teachers; practical, real-life examples of careers to examine; accessible role models and coaches, and supportive workplaces when they get there. Many women in STEM societies at universities have their 3rd & 4th year students mentor the 1st & 2nd years. While it’s a start, we must get more people out to our secondary schools to engage young people of all genders. Such actions can be incredibly powerful for both the student and the organisations offering insight into career paths.

Although not an exhaustive list, from our early education engagements including our STEM Ambassadors running Code Clubs & Cyber Detective Games, hosting the National Cyber Security Centre’s CyberFirst Girls Scottish Semi-Final in 2020, through to connections at secondary schools via Careers Fairs, the Career Ready Programme, and our Step In, Step Up for women aged 16 – 18 to learn about Technology Careers, and into Higher Education with our Graduate Apprenticeships and Graduate programmes, offer such insights. A wide-range of opportunities like these, across all ages, is essential to drive change.

There is one specific need I’d like to call out and that’s a shift in language that can help inspire early-year students. A 2019 study of primary school children by New York University & Princeton University concluded that action-focused language such as ‘doing science’ – instead of identity-focused words such as ‘being scientists’ – led to higher rates of commitment to science, particularly for girls. While schools are, and should be, great beehives for children to discover and validate interests, if we are really to encourage positive perceptions of STEM, then we as grown-ups need to take on more responsibility to support those interests.

We encourage children from an early age to think laterally – to problem solve, to be creative and detail-oriented. That should also include properly – albeit gently – introducing them to the spectrum of opportunities that STEM can offer. The acceleration of awareness, accessibility & even acceptance of STEM as a rewarding educational and career pursuit is crucial if its current challenges are to be overcome.

Q. What role do you think male colleagues have in helping organisations achieve greater gender balance? Can they be part of a solution to equality?

Absolutely, they have to be part of the solution. They are crucial to ensuring the aims of greater equality are met and a fair society exists for all. My experience has been that there are many men who care deeply about improving the balance, as it’s the right thing to do. The trick is that it needs to come from top leadership – to be woven into a firm’s culture – and it can’t simultaneously disenfranchise or disadvantage men as that’s not equitable either. Individuals must work together as a collective to deliver change for all.

Q. There seems to be a clear female-led entrepreneur presence in Scotland. Do you think voices are being heard and visibility increased?

Yes and yes. Women entrepreneurs are absolutely being heard, and are leading by example. Their growing presence – and their success – offer a dynamic platform to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs. Additionally, the number of women across all STEM roles, regardless of sector, are highlighting that there is no one path to success and that success takes many forms. All success in Scotland should be celebrated as it can offer a valuable model to build growth and innovation, and further an inclusive and sustainable
future.

Q. How do you think COVID-19 has impacted gender diversity in STEM and the capacity to fulfil potential?

It’s hard to say definitively what the impact has been as we are still living through this pandemic – and there seems to be more chapters to this book before it ends. Clearly, in many sectors where women have a large or majority employee presence – such as air travel, tourism, retail and leisure – there has been significant dislocation. But, as for STEM, it’s still significantly (and regretfully) male-dominated, despite our recent gender-equality inroads. Regardless of sector though, school and childcare closures have had a higher impact on women than on men, a reflection perhaps of historic child-rearing practices. That said, the pandemic seems to have accelerated our appetite and dependence on products coming from STEM’s work sectors, only further stimulating this already expanding space. So, hopefully, gender diversity advances in that area are not upended and instead can fuel further change.

Q. Who do you think are the most inspiring women in STEM today?

There are many. But, I’d highlight two individuals. The first is Toni Scullion, who is a CompSci teacher who inspires so many school students particularly through dressCode, her not-for-profit charity which aims to engage and raise awareness of opportunities in technology across Scotland. The second is Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, who, while in primary school, passed 2 GCSEs, received a Master’s Degree in Maths & Computer Science from Oxford University at the age of 20, and today speaks six languages. She co-founded and is CEO of STEMettes, a social enterprise organisation that encourages school and university-age females to pursue education and careers in STEM.

Importantly though, I’d like to salute students of all ages interested in STEM, whose rich personalities and enthusiasm make them an inspiration to us all. We just need more of them!

​The information contained in this article does not constitute business advice and should not be acted on as such. This content is based on our understanding in October 2020. Head Resourcing are not liable for the information contained on any third-party websites linked to this article.

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