Get Inspired by Nike Employees’ Tips for Thriving as a Woman in STEM

It’s easy to think of women in STEM fields as exceptions to the rule — that the male-dominated field only hires the most tech-savvy, experienced women on rare occasions. You might even assume that women working for a company like Nike would feel confident in the fact that they’re employed by one of the most well-known companies in the world.

The unfortunate truth is that even women with years of professional experience and wisdom to back up their work have self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and internal biases that can prevent them from finding long-term success in the tech workforce.

During an open discussion around women in STEM and promoting gender diversity in tech, host and 2U, Inc. Manager of Industry Engagement Tiffany Tram sat down with eight inspiring women working on various technical teams at Nike. Panelists included:

Mika Chesnutt — Product Manager, Connected Growth

Jessica Rattner — Sr. Transition Manager

Courtney Wright — Mechanical Engineer

Carmen Davis — Process Engineer I

Emily Tran — Software Engineer

Clémence Tiradon — Sr. Director, Digital Product Management

Michelle Ho — Data Scientist

Yatri Kalathia — BI Products Observability Engineer

The virtual event included two breakout sessions where attendees were able to discuss specific topics around diversity and inclusion with panelists. Keep reading to find out how they empower themselves as women in the STEM world.

6 Tips for Women in STEM

1. Understand your wants

In a breakout session focused on self-advocacy, Clémence led a discussion around understanding and identifying your wants and needs when it comes to professional development and how it empowers your personal development.

“Your rights and your needs and wants are different things,” she explained. While you’re legally entitled to your rights, your wants center around your likes and dislikes, and your needs allow you to get closer to those wants. In a professional context, it’s important to ask yourself questions about the type of company and colleagues you want to work with. Think about personality types, workflows, and environments you prefer, as well as those you don’t. “Being able to define what you don’t want to do is equally helpful,” Clémence added.

By understanding your wants and needs, you get to the core of your motivations and are able to advocate for yourself in a meaningful way. Use your knowledge of yourself to navigate your professional path and determine what you want to do with your career — and then ask for what you need to make it happen.

2. Speak up and ask questions

Before you get the job, you’ll have to go through the application and interview process, which is a great time to start advocating for yourself in a professional context. In a breakout session, Emily told boot camp learners that once they get their resume through the bots and are sitting down with an interviewer, it’s time to emphasize your passions. Explain what brought you to the field and highlight your previous experience to showcase your unique combination of skills — what can you add to the team?

Once you’ve landed the role, you’ll likely face a learning curve as you master internal protocols and lingo. You might feel uncomfortable at first, but asking questions is the best way to learn. Not to mention, you’re probably not the only person in the room who wants to ask. Mika advised getting in the habit of using your voice and figuring out who you can rely on for guidance within your team.

For Carmen, working in a male-dominated team made it hard to speak up when she first started with the company. Giving herself permission to speak up has forced her out of her comfort zone and allowed her to showcase her expertise and team value. The ongoing practice of consistently speaking up is making it easier to give her input each time, while building a valuable career skill as well.

3. Find a community

Through the efforts of Nike United, female employees have a number of community networks to choose from that not only promote cultural awareness within the organization, but also empower employees to support communities where they live. For Courtney and Mika, that translates into working with groups like the Boys & Girls Clubs and volunteering with the Grace Hopper Celebration.

If your company hasn’t focused efforts on community development, that’s okay! Clémence recommended finding groups for women in STEM (locally or virtually) which offer plenty of ways to connect and find support as you continue on your career path. Or, you can follow Michelle’s advice and find allies in your coworkers — people whose confidence in your work can help you push past feelings of inadequacy or imposter syndrome.

Maybe you work for a company whose communities already support your individuality, or you might not feel like the gender gap impacts your current or future professional goals. You’re not alone. “I don’t feel [gender discrimination] in an overt way,” Jessica explained to the group — but that doesn’t mean that she’s not networking and connecting so women can continue to shine in their jobs. “We are where we are today because of the work that’s been done, so it’s our job to pick up the mantle and keep it going.”

4. Identify your advocates

Do you know the difference between your mentors and your sponsors? Nearly every organization at Nike emphasizes and supports mentorship through employee matching programs, helping individuals form connections that can support their professional outlook.

While your mentors are there to act as sounding boards and beacons of professional wisdom, your sponsors are people you find within your organization — likely within your own team — who not only provide that support of a mentor, but also advocate for you on your behalf. These people tend to have influence and strong relationships within your company and have an understanding of career path opportunities that match your skills and goals.

“[Finding] a community to support and help you is crucial,” Clémence said. She went on to highlight an experience she had at another company, during which she and her team had worked long hours for an extended period of time to complete a big project. Realizing that her team was exhausted and burnt out, she spoke up on their behalf to request time off as a recompense for the hard work. While the ask may have appeared unconventional, Clémence’s confidence in her team allowed her to advocate for their needs and ultimately benefit the company.

5. Create new habits

Just like with anything new or unfamiliar, stepping into a new role often requires adopting new habits. It’s not always easy to push yourself out of your comfort zone, so setting small goals that you can hold yourself accountable to is important to finding confidence as a woman in STEM. What are some of the habits women at Nike practice?

For Carmen, it’s as simple as making a point to use her voice in meetings. “I try and speak up once a week or once in a specific meeting to get more comfortable with it,” she said during the panel discussion. Consider similar goals you can set, like aiming to meet one new person outside your team every month, or even delivering a presentation on something you do have confidence in.

Clémence has experienced the same feeling of inadequacy despite her professional background and experience. To help set herself up for success, she strives to always be prepared and have an understanding of what’s coming up for the business and in turn, her team. “You can’t just walk into a meeting not having done your homework,” she added. Think about it: staying on top of general goings-on gives you a broader understanding of where you fit into the organization while enabling you to support company goals using your unique skills.

6. Overcome imposter syndrome

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re either interested in, enrolled in or have recently completed a technical boot camp course. You might be wondering how your skill set fits in at a company like Nike, especially if you don’t have a conventional path into STEM.

After sitting in on interviews and witnessing more of the hiring process, Emily has seen plenty of candidates get hired without formal training or technical backgrounds. “A boot camp can teach you what you need to be sufficient,” she reassured attendees. At the end of the day, bringing your unique perspective and education to any company adds to its diversity. Don’t be afraid to own your experience during the interview and after you get hired — your skills will prove themselves once you put them to work.

As mentioned earlier, there’s no formula for overcoming imposter syndrome, but there are ways to gain a broader perspective to help mitigate the resulting feelings. Clémence quickly learned that she would have to find comfort in self-advocacy if she wanted to be successful. Her tip? Try to reflect at the end of each day in a quick note to yourself: What happened that day that you liked? Didn’t like? What would you do differently?

Final Thoughts

Being a woman in STEM means bringing everything you have to the table and giving yourself permission to own your expertise. There will be occasions when you experience self-doubt or imposter syndrome, but with the right community and a positive mindset, you can find success regardless of your path into the field.

Want to connect to more inspiring industry professionals like the speakers from this event?  Our Career Engagement Network has partnered with 260+ employers to gain insights that we apply to our curricula to ensure our programs cover the most in-demand skills. Boot camp learners get access to those partners through exclusive networking events, recruiting webinars, and job referrals. Visit our website or speak with admissions to learn more about the career services available through Columbia Engineering Boot Camps.

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