This month we’ve had the pleasure of chatting to Tiffany Dawson about her experience being a woman in STEM. Tiffany offers leadership coaching for Women in STEM to enable them to strategically progress in their career.

Today we’re uncovering some of the barriers Tiffany faced – the impact of imposter syndrome, and how companies can improve the experience women have in their workplace.

Hi Tiffany, thanks for joining us! We’d love to start off by chatting about your career background going into STEM. Is it something you have always wanted to do?

No, it wasn’t…

Like most kids, few know exactly what they want to do, I had no idea. It was more like a process of elimination, finding out what I could do and really didn’t want to do.

I knew I didn’t want to do anything finance, reading related or any gory science stuff.

The thought of engineering didn’t seem too bad so gave that a go. My dad was and still is an electrical engineer, so that probably had some play into it. In my first year of university, I studied general engineering. In my 2nd year I got to specialise in mechanical engineering.

Was there anything in particular which made you want to switch from the engineering world to coaching women in STEM?

I did about 8 years in construction engineering. Throughout that time I went through my own challenges as one of the few women in engineering.

When I worked in London, I was the ONLY woman engineer for my first year. The more senior I became, the more I realised it was difficult and there weren’t many woman leaders.

In my leadership role I was managing people a lot older and more experienced than I was, which led me to experience massive imposter syndrome.

‘Oh my goodness, who am I to tell all these people what to do every day’.

I can now see I was there in that position because I can make good decisions and see the bigger picture.

My manager was very empathetic and got me the help I needed which I’m very appreciative of. He sent me on some corporate workshops for high performing women and leadership coaching. 

I learnt to put systems into place to help me draw some work/life boundaries and gain more confidence.

Whilst leading this team, I tried to teach everyone around me everything I had learnt, and I loved doing that.

You spoke a little there about some barriers you had faced, what would you say was one of the largest barriers? Was it the fact you were one of a few?

If I had to boil it down to only one, it was probably the lack of learning on how to be strategic in my career.

In a male dominated work environment like technical engineering, most of your seniors are male. Within the workplace, we like to make friends with people who are just like us. The more senior leaders will likely befriend someone a little junior. They then often hang out outside of work, meaning they have more of an opportunity to talk informally about work stuff. 

As there were less women leaders in my industry, I had less of a chance to casually chat about what projects I was working on and receiving the advice some of the men were getting.

Women are typically told they must find a mentor, which is great, but men don’t have to do that to get the same information. 

Based on your previous experiences, what advice would you give to someone who feels overlooked in their job due to their gender?

It depends on your own situation. You need to make sure you believe in yourself first, and its often harder for minorities to do that. Instead of thinking ‘if our work is worthy, people will notice it’. You need the self-belief that you are worth what you’re doing. It’s about learning how to have difficult conversations and influence people.

Make sure you’re not discouraging them from listening. Sometimes from the way we’re taught, we might use words that discourage. For example, saying ‘oh I just have something to add’, instead of saying ‘I have an idea/point to make.’

As someone who’s moved across the globe from Australia and continued their career, did you find there to be a big cultural shift? Whether that’s in the industry, people etc…

I thought that there wouldn’t be much of a cultural shift as aussies are known to be quite similar to Brits – same language, similar humour etc. In Australia I worked with a lot of British people too.

After a few months in the UK, I noticed a huge cultural difference. Australians are very straight to the point talking, whereas in the UK you beat around the bush and have to tip toe around.

I had a few instances where I was told off because I came across rude, I didn’t realise because I thought I was being clear with my communication. That was a big learning for me.

We’ve spoken a little bit about your emotions going into a leadership role, and the expectations you put on yourself there. How daunting was the process of quitting a full-time secure job and adventuring out more into the unknown towards coaching…

Massive, massive imposter syndrome again!

I didn’t grow up in a family of big business owners. In fact, I was taught only lucky people have a big break and have a passion project work as a full-time job.

I knew I could coach. I knew I could help women excel in their careers so that part I was really confident with. It was the marketing and telling the world what I do that I struggled with. I had to learn to separate my ego from my business.

Speaking of business, where do you see yourself and your business in 5 years’ time? Would you hire additional coaches?

In the next phase of my business, I’ll be focussing on helping female founders to gain confidence in their complex roles. I meet a lot of women business owners who battle with a sudden loss of confidence. It’s often the first time they’ve held such a huge responsibility for a business. If I can help remove that negative mind chatter, it means there’ll be more female leaders and role models for the world to look up to. That’s really important to me.

If companies wanted to encourage more women into STEM leadership positions, do you think having these discussions surrounding progression and up-skilling would help?

One mistake a lot of companies make is thinking the only way to improve this situation is by employing more women. Of course, encouraging more of these hires is a great thing but if you hire lots of women into a workplace that is not a set-up to help them thrive, it’s a waste.

What companies really need to start working on is the retention of women they already have. Ask them what would make it better for them, then hire more women in. 

If you have women in your workplace at all different levels it encourages more women to join.

Let’s talk self-confidence, do you have any advice as a mentoring coach that we can share?

Self-confidence boiled down is the trust you have in yourself.

A lot of the time people believe in ‘fake it till you make it’ or ‘pretend to be an extrovert’… Practicing these make you appear confident but doesn’t actually improve your self-confidence, there’s little change in how you think about yourself. 

The simple thing about confidence is having trust in yourself to do what you feel is right. Find your core values and what makes you tick. If you can prove to yourself that you live within your values 80% of the time, you’ll probably become more confident.

Thank you Tiffany, it was great talking to you! 

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Read our previous blog here: ‘4 tips to break into the tech industry’

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