Bravery and Belief – the Pathway to STEM Career Success

Heading up chemical manufacturer BASF plc.’s UK and Ireland distribution arm, BTC, Lisa Kelly shares her insight into how the industry has changed for women in the past decade and offers some inspirational advice for women considering a STEM career today.

I was incredibly fortunate to attend a grammar school where there was an emphasis on academic subjects and science was promoted quite strongly. I ended up taking both physics and chemistry, with a view to going on to A-Levels and beyond. However, I spotted an opportunity to work in a laboratory and continue to study chemistry at the same time – equivalent in many ways to today’s apprenticeships – and that felt like a good fit for me.

When skills open up possibilities

A few years in, I realised that I’m essentially a people person and that working in a lab didn’t allow me to really use those skills, which is when I transitioned into a sales role at BASF. It was important for me to keep my link with chemistry, through working for a chemical manufacturer, but also to use that broader skillset. Together, they’ve opened up a world of possibilities for me, which led to me working in a number of areas, both in the UK and overseas. Combining a technical understanding of what we do as a chemical manufacturer and how that fits into our customer applications, with a keen commercial sense has seen me work in areas from nutrition and personal care to detergent and pharmaceuticals, supporting hundreds of industries.

Changing times for STEM industries

It’s not always been easy. I’ve been in many situations where women have been in the minority. It can be quite intimidating to be the only woman in a lecture or one of perhaps 20 women in a 600-strong organisation. When I started out, there were minimal opportunities for flexible working, so women struggled practically to manage home and work and customer perceptions of women meant I felt that I had to work twice as hard to prove myself. Even today, a lot of senior leadership teams are still male-dominated and unconscious bias remains around the perceived difficulties of employing women – many based on biology.

But things are changing. Over the past decade, I’ve seen more and more women attending industry events and there are definite changes to how women are viewed. Flexible working for men and women has become increasingly common and there’s a growing awareness of the importance of shared parenting, which helps.

Adding value to our business through diversity

At BASF, our senior leadership team is passionate about diversity and inclusion. We work with a number of organisations, such as Forward Ladies, to learn and promote best practice right across the business. Our Diversity and Inclusion Ambassadors visit local schools and colleges to encourage interest in STEM careers, highlight the range of opportunities a STEM career can offer and open doors for students. Internally, we promote positive role models and have created policies focused on attracting, retaining and developing the best talent. What we also recognise is that men and women bring different skills to a team and together create a powerful combination that adds value to our business.

Owning your opportunities

We are slowly changing attitudes to STEM as a career choice for women and industry is making great strides in promoting diversity and inclusion, but we also need to encourage women themselves to have more confidence; to believe in themselves and their ability to do these jobs. We certainly need more positive role models – after all, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. But we also need girls to challenge the biases that exist about their career options, whether that’s at home, amongst their peers, or at school, and be brave in their choices. At BASF there is a spirit of optimism – it supports our corporate values. My message to girls would be to let optimism be your driver. Reach out to the opportunities and grab them; own them. By doing that, you can steer yourself to a positive and successful career.

To get a copy of the FL STEM Report 2018 please click HERE

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