How Women in STEM Become a Recognised Expert at Work

Interview with Dr. Nicole Tschierske for the Women in STEM, Reimagined masterclass.

Nicole Tschierske is passionate about helping women in science and tech get noticed and gain the respect of colleagues and management, unlock opportunities, make a more significant impact and progress in their careers without burning out. 

Today on the blog, she answers some of the most common questions women in STEM ask about advancing their careers. 

What am I doing wrong? Why am I not getting noticed?

“I went through that journey,” Nicole says. “We often get stuck in an expertise illusion.” The expertise illusion is where we continue the attitude that we had throughout our education, that our expertise is the only thing that can advance our career. Our expertise is so important throughout university: how many papers have you authored and which conferences did you present at? But when you enter the industry, it’s not the only thing that matters anymore. It still matters, and those are admirable achievements, but you need more to advance. 

Nicole explains the evolution one can take out of the expertise illusion with a persona for each of the three stages. 

1. Laboratory Laura: 

Laura is in the early stages of her STEM career. Maybe she is in her cubical or at the lab bench. She is great at running her experiments, and always has a new hypothesis to test. She has many ideas and carries them out no problem. But she feels like it’s not enough. “What else should I be doing?” Laura asks. She feels like she has to work harder and harder, and produce more work, but it’s still feeding into the same channels. All that effort doesn’t lead to more exposure or recognition. 

2. Nerdy Natasha: 

Natasha has learned to leave the lab bench. She starts to go out and engage and present in forums, start conversations, and speak up in meetings, but there’s still a disconnect. It’s like the message doesn’t really land when she shares. “I’m sharing all the data but nothing seems to happen,” Natasha shares. “ It’s like there’s no follow-through when people like my ideas.” She hasn’t developed her ability to influence. Natasha needs to learn how to communicate to non-scientific audiences, and tailor her messaging to different audiences with varied educational backgrounds. 

3. Junior Julie: 

Julie has built her communication skills to reach nonscientists and nonengineers. She has tons of results to back her up and has developed a strong support network. Yet she still has the sense that there is more to develop. She is not considered for higher roles in management or leadership. She is at a plateau in her career; a place that we can probably all relate to. To keep growing and reach the next step in her career, Julie must build her business and leadership skills. 

How to not get stuck in a negative spiral?

It is only natural that we get solace from talking to people about the situation we are in. Sharing our frustrations and seeing that we are not alone in feeling overlooked for opportunities and like we are not progressing as fast as we would like is comforting. It must not be your fault if you’re not the only one in that position. If other people are struggling in the same way, it’s not you– it’s the company or management, right? 

But if all you do is complain about not getting noticed and not being on management’s radar, nothing changes. It’s basically an excuse to stay the same and give up trying to progress. So, when you notice this negative pattern, this prolonged complaining mode, become aware and put boundaries on how long you talk about the situation and complain versus plan for a change.

How to get out of complaint and into action:

  1. Start finding evidence to the contrary: 

Confirmation bias is a cognitive bias where the human brain likes to only “see” evidence that confirms existing beliefs. So if you believe that there are no opportunities for management to recognize your talents, you will only see evidence supporting that assumption. Start looking for examples of others getting recognized for their expertise and watch the world change. 

  1. Form a promotion squad: 

The buddies that you used to complain about the lack of opportunity with can become your promotion group. Make sure you each shout each other out whenever the opportunity arises, in meetings, via email or in other ways. Promote each other and help each other out instead of waiting for others outside your existing group to do it. This is a great way to champion your peers and create a more positive atmosphere. 

If we want to stand out, what steps do we take? 

You can promote your work without waiting for someone else to start the conversation. As you wait for meetings to start, you can drop your successes into nuggets of conversation, like when someone asks how your day is going. 

Another way to showcase your talents is to ask for help. It may be counterintuitive, but by asking for help, you get to choose someone who you want to be on the radar of and showcase how good you are at your job. Go in prepared, have your analysis of the problem ready, the information you have collected, and your thoughts. You get to show off what you do know, that you come prepared and that you’re open to collaboration. Plus, people like to give their advice; it’s very validating.

You can also offer someone help. Nicole suggests approaching someone you think you can help, saying that you heard about this obstacle they’re facing and asking if they would like you to take a look and offer some input. Regardless of whether they accept, they clocked you, saw that you were paying attention and that you were thinking of them.

Finally, you can step into an unofficial educator role. By educating others on your subject, you show the breadth of your knowledge and your communication skills. One idea is to take a few minutes in a team meeting to cover a topic in a 15-minute talk. Sometimes word spreads about these presentations and other teams may ask you to come present in their team meetings too. 

Missed Women in STEM, Reimagined? 

Dr. Nicole Tschierske. Nicole is passionate about helping overlooked women in STEM become influential, so they can confidently unlock new opportunities for themselves, get their employers saying “we need you on this job!” and make a bigger impact. As a Scientist and Positive Psychology Coach, Nicole helps her clients strategically turn their career frustrations into a renewed love for their work.

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