Demystifying the challenges, rewards and opportunities of working in STEM

Joanne Warner, Head of Customer Service, Natterbox, has only felt ‘different’ once in her STEM career - after having her second child.

Joanne Warner didn’t have a strong sense of what she wanted to do when she finished her A-levels. A career in STEM certainly wasn’t front of mind. Still, Joanne started her career as a System Administrator for Cap Gemini Sogeti, where she supported fault-tolerant servers for the emergency services.

As Head of Customer Service at Natterbox, Joanne firmly believes more needs to be done by businesses and educational institutions to encourage more women into STEM. Here she explains why.

What did your career look like before Natterbox?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a Legal Secretary, but things changed for me when I left home at 16 and decided that I didn’t want to go to university.

At that point, I didn’t really have a strong sense of what I wanted to do and ended up falling into a role working as a System Administrator where I supported fault tolerant servers for the emergency services. Having to support systems which needed to be continuously available was a great introduction into what it means to provide the best possible customer service and the important role that technology plays.

That first role really shaped my career, especially because I always strived to make the most of any opportunity that I was afforded. For example, the company I was working for at the time invested in my training and bought me up to the level where I no longer needed supervision from an external contractor.

Over the following eight years I met and worked with my first real mentor who continuously questioned what I wanted to be and where I wanted to go – which made me really think about my career path. I followed them into my next company and never looked back.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?

I have been very lucky during my career to have had some of the best managers and mentors, but one of the biggest challenges I have faced is managing teams on different continents and ensuring consistency across all of them. 

It was only after I had my second child that I felt that my gender was at the heart of an issue at work. Some of my management and colleagues thought that my commitment and motivations within the workplace had changed. But this only made me even more determined to prove that work ethic is not defined by gender or children. Everyone will always come across workplace challenges, but sometimes it’s good to have to prove yourself – it’s what keeps us engaged with our work and motivated to push forward.

What would your advice be to others who have met similar challenges?

In any role or industry, you’ll face challenges both from the people you work with and the work you do. It shouldn’t stop you from reaching for your goals. There are so many incredibly rewarding roles and opportunities in STEM. The most important thing is, whether male or female, be comfortable with who you are.

A phrase I learned very early on in my career was to ‘aim for the blue sky’, that is, wherever you want to end up. Only you can determine your career path and ensure you’re on the right one for you. Start by taking it a step at a time – if you spend too much time worrying and trying to get everything in place at once, life and your career will pass you by.

How about women looking to enter a STEM role?

My advice to women looking to enter a STEM role is, don’t hesitate! It is an incredibly rewarding industry to work in, with so much opportunity and variation. There is always the chance to progress and learn, so you will never be bored. But like any role, you only get out what you are willing to put in, and you need to be willing to listen, learn and adapt.

What should should businesses and academia do to encourage more women into STEM roles?

There is more equality in the workplace than ever before, with businesses placing increasing emphasis on promoting women in these roles. But there is still more to be done and ultimately, business needs diversity to thrive!

It’s vital that businesses and educational organisations continue to promote all opportunities as equal. Spending time and investment in understanding people’s motivations and strengths can produce the most innovative and loyal employees or students.

From my own experiences, I also believe that providing mentors for employees to confide in, work with and identify with, regardless of gender, is hugely important. And with the advent of social media, organisations need to present a holistic view of what values they represent and live by.

It’s the responsibility of organisations and business leaders to be truly open to having the right talent in the right place and put in the effort to demonstrate those values both to current and prospective employees.
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