As we celebrate Ada Lovelace Day 2021 we take the time to learn and grow from inspirational women in STEM who are all around us. We hope by engaging in these conversations we can promote positive change and make STEM careers accessible for more women.
The latest in the series 'Celebrating Women in STEM' sees Lee Murray chat to Margaret McLay, Technology and Transformation Director at Business Stream to find out what attracted Mags into her current role at Business Stream and what it has been like for her as the only senior female representative in the past.
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?
My background is in Financial Services working through from customer advisor to a senior change leader involved in IT and Business change over a number of years. More recently moving to a technology role in a Utilities company. Opportunity lead me into STEM, being open to change, new challenges and having someone believe in my ability meant when an opportunity presented itself to move into a technology role I felt ready and able to do so.
Q. Has there been anyone who has made a positive and lasting impression on your career? How can we learn from this person and their approach?
I’ve learned different things from different people, sometimes those that challenge you the most leave the biggest impression, but not always for the right reason. Those are valuable lessons of how not to lead people, but the true positives are when working with one leader who was able to make tough decisions, be constructive with feedback and made me think about how I approached situations to get the best out of people and not have to know everything myself. Their approach was to stop and listen, understand the issue in as much detail as was required to then help others to work to resolve, not dictating the outcome but enabling others to do so themselves. Empowering and motivating individuals and teams, trusting in their judgement and actions but also being clear on the outcome that was expected, and within what timescales!
Q. Is there a clear difference in your experiences of being a female in the sector at the beginning of your career and now?
Huge difference. Many, many times I was a lone female around a senior leadership table. Daunting at the start but then I realised that I had been invited in for a reason and that having a seat at the table meant that I was able and should ensure that my view was heard. As the years progressed the balance improved and my confidence grew but it was and many times still is tipped in the favour of male colleagues.
Q. If you were with a group of peers this evening and talking openly about this topic, what would be the key issues discussed?
That the gender balance is now looked at in all roles, those that were more traditionally female need to have more males in them. Gender is not the only differentiator we now think more widely about inclusion as it is a much broader topic that we are only beginning to understand. Good progress has been made, we need to make sure we keep making progress so that now role, no opportunity can be seen to be gender biased.
Q. What role do you think other colleagues have in helping organisations achieve greater gender balance?
I think it’s important that all colleagues understand the role they can play in achieving greater gender balance. From recruitment to talent management, coaching and mentoring which happens at all levels across organisations. Being open to understanding how your role can influence and impact others is not new, its’ just to consider this in a wider context of gender.
Q. How do you think COVID-19 has impacted gender diversity in STEM and the capacity to fulfil potential?
I suspect that given a lot of families had to move to a home working model there could be an impact on gender as some women may have found while juggling work and family that they had to take on more of the family responsibility, depending on their partners occupation. However, the same could be said on the basis that the woman’s role was more vital to the economy or the country e.g. in healthcare or other industries. This will be interesting to watch over coming months and years to see what changes come about as a result of this unprecedented event.
Q. Who do you think are the most inspiring women in STEM today?
Jennifer Lewis, a professor at Harvard University has inspired many women in technology see link at the bottom to read more about her. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer, a humble and down to earth person who talks eloquently and easily on complex matters and is clearly a great mentor promoting women in technology through the work she does.
Influencing others a day at a time in small ways can be as powerful as being a keynote speaker at a conference. So when asked to visit a school and talk about your job consider that is also promoting gender equality to the whole class, not just the girls, so we help the younger generation just to expect equality not have to fight for it.