How to jump into a STEM career from a woman who’s championing gender diversity

Elizabeth Tweedale, CEO and founder of Cypher talks about 'Changing Lanes' into a STEM career and changing the gender bias

Gender diversity within STEM industries is a long recognised issue, and it has been widely accepted that this should change. But by 2030, it’s predicted that only 29% of the STEM workforce will be women, compared to just 21% in 2016.

Clearly, we are still far away from a world where there’s equality within these workforces – men still outnumber women on boards and higher-level management teams across all areas of STEM, indicating that there are still barriers to entry, preventing women from feeling empowered to approach a career in STEM today.

Women have had a natural inclination towards computer science and the problem-solving skills required for those roles – after all, the original computer scientist, Ada Lovelace, was a woman.

STEM industries need to challenge diversity, so they can benefit from the incredible skills and alternative perspectives that women bring. By sourcing talent from all genders, STEM industries will be stronger.

Until organisations accept that gender diversity is a problem and are actively bringing in solutions to address this, a lack of diversity will continue affecting all aspects of life, including the tech we interact with daily that has been programmed from a one-sided viewpoint.

It can sometimes take a while to realise where your passions lie. When I first left university, I began my career working within several leading Architecture practices. After a few years in the industry, I realised I wanted to change gear and follow my dreams addressing the inequalities in tech that emanate from education at a young age. I launched Cypher in 2016 to help encourage more girls into coding. So, if you are looking to leap into a STEM career, here’s my advice.

Why your current role is still important

Many women are already working in tech-focused roles without realising it. From roles in industries ranging from marketing to healthcare, technology plays a fundamental role in our jobs and lives. When deciding to change lanes, take a step back and look at how you interact with technology every day – this could be data analytics, adoption of AI/VR, communicating with your team or cloud computing.

As the connected ecosystem expands, understanding how the job you do now integrates into the tech world will help you break down barriers when transitioning.

Do you already have some of the skills

It might seem obvious, but seeing if you already have prerequisite skills that a STEM pivot requires will help you know if you’re already prepared for your new journey.

Transferable skills are key – and you’ll have many without realising it. Any past accomplishments in your current and previous roles will be relevant. When you go for an interview in your new STEM role, try to rephrase these skills and apply them to the new career you’re aiming for. 

For example, a breadth of skills is required in STEM – analysing information, evaluating designs, reflecting on your thinking, synthesising new ideas, and proposing creative solutions. Moreover, collaboration is one of the vital skills needed within STEM. One person rarely solves big challenges, so working in STEM will require you to work as a collaborative team. Think back to the last big collective project you completed; what were your strengths, and how did this help you work well within a team?

How to enhance your knowledge

Once you’ve identified the skills you have required for a STEM career change, the next step will be determining whether you need training or qualifications, so you can identify where you might need more knowledge to upskill yourself. 

If you already have a degree, are there conversion courses available for you to act as a stepping stone into new industries? If this isn’t an option, take advantage of online courses, where you can complete modules at your own pace and spend a little time each day learning the materials.

Reading around the subject will also help, although some topics might be harder to learn on your own. Look into courses to understand the history of STEM industries and any wider knowledge to help you with your endeavours.

Being able to show you’ve dedicated yourself to a career move into STEM and have made the effort to upskill will demonstrate ambitious and proactive qualities – attractive for any employer.


Networking is essential in any industry and will be vital to get your name out there for a career in which you have no previous experience.

Networking will help you make connections with prospective employers and people who could help you transition. You can reach out to mentors or others in your position to understand their successes and feedback on making the jump. Use social media tools to reach out to people, or why not try contacting companies directly. 

Making new connections is invaluable to your career jump; however, don’t forget to use your own connections. Is there anyone in your social circle or family that could give you an introduction to industry leaders and professionals in the field?

Shortcuts don’t exist

As the saying goes, ‘good things come to those who wait’, which is true in the case of any career pivot.

Learning new skills and networking will always take longer than expected, so don’t push yourself to make these changes overnight. Be patient – something will come along.  Commit yourself to make consistent changes over months, but make sure these actions are manageable with your current work obligations, so you don’t fall behind in the current role.

Unfortunately, there is no magic solution for anyone wanting to change careers into STEM. But there are steps you can take to make this happen, such as using your network wisely, adopting new skills, looking at your current role and accepting things could take some time.

Through empowering yourself and having the confidence to take a leap of faith into a new industry, especially one that seems daunting and male-dominated, we can begin to make the difference that the STEM industries are in dire need of.

STEM is the future; the industry has an exciting pace of change and is full of opportunity, making it a truly fantastic career option for women. But, for women to thrive in the industry, individuals need to make certain changes, and so do organisations. Companies also need to understand the barriers women face in the STEM industry and develop solutions to make STEM a more attainable career choice.
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