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Why more women should consider a career in the STEM industry

By guest contributor Elie Khatami

I’m Elie Khatami, and I am VP, Customer & Product Support, EMEAI, at Honeywell Aerospace. I support every type of aircraft operator, from commercial airlines to private jet and helicopter owners. I’ve been with this company for 19 years, and while I never imagined I will be in this current role, this didn’t happen by chance.

I joined Honeywell Aerospace in 2001, in Phoenix, Arizona after graduating with a degree in Supply Chain Management and Marketing. It was an entry-level planning position through my university’s rotational program, in an engine-part factory. I have always loved travelling, thus my fascination with the aviation industry and its ever-evolving technology.

Why did I select the STEM path?

My interest in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industry resulted from my early exposure to my family’s foam packaging business. I was only eight years old, but I was instantly hooked. In my culture, the traditional career aspirations are either to study medicine or law, yet I wanted to be an international businesswoman.

My father was very supportive, and he told me, “Whatever you want to be, be the best at it.”

The road to the career I wanted was highly challenging. I decided to study at an American university as that gave me an opportunity to widen my horizons, but it also meant leaving my family and friends behind. Being a young lady in a foreign land and culture was initially daunting, but I persevered working in a restaurant at night and studying during the day. I was always taking on a bit more, to show myself “I can!”

I have always believed in excelling at whatever I do. I also never thought my path would be easy. “No pain, no gain” is one of my favourite sayings. The past decade has certainly given inclusion and diversity in the workplace a solid push forward, and that’s wonderful. However, when I started out, it wasn’t quite so.

The STEM industry today

The STEM industry is developing at a rapid pace and is one of the highest paying sectors. Below are a few reasons I think why it makes sense for women to consider a career in STEM.

Pay advantage: According to PEW Research Centre, STEM professionals earn an average of 26% more than non-STEM professionals with similar levels of education. Additional research has shown that women in STEM earn around 33% more than their non-STEM counterparts. As women on an average earn 20% less than males in the same position, this is definitely food for thought.

Cross-Marketability of Skills: The methodical, systematic, and logical approach to problem solving is key for a STEM mindset. This further allows STEM professionals to pursue a variety of careers, including management and leadership roles, across a wide range of fields. In today’s rapidly changing world, as jobs become obsolete and new careers and technologies emerge rapidly, STEM professionals will have the advantage to stay agile, adaptive and be relevant to whatever the future brings.

Job availability: STEM jobs are projected to grow by 13%, compared to 9% for non-STEM jobs—with positions in computing, engineering, and advanced manufacturing leading the way. Pursuing a career in STEM unquestionably gives women a wider range of choices and options to choose from, delivering financial independence.

A supportive company is a must

In my company, our Aerospace CEO is involved and passionate about inclusion and diversity. Our programs have come a long way. Our next goal is to cascade the programs down to the lower levels of management, where visibility is much tougher. It’s our hope that through the expansion of these programs, those who come after will struggle less in footing their career path.

When I started out, I approached my day with passion and learned everything that I needed to know to move up and grow my professional network. I ended up specializing mostly in Supply Chain Management, working with our factories, but a few years ago through a mentorship/sponsorship program, I was able to transition from the back end of the business to outward-facing customer service.

I was given opportunities, and I’ve thrived. It has been extremely satisfying, both professionally and personally. I have been stationed all over – Phoenix, Shanghai, Singapore, and currently Lausanne, Switzerland. Becoming a local in a new country is wonderful! How diverse cultures approach work and life fascinates me. But it’s a package deal – there can also be loneliness and miscommunications due to language barriers.

Last year my workday started in any number of countries, meeting with clients to service their fleets. I work remotely now due to the pandemic, with my team in all corners of the world.

Perseverance has helped me a great deal, although this year has been adversity-filled. Resilience, not tolerance, to adversity, makes me stronger.

I am constantly pushing myself beyond my boundaries. I am an avid hiker, runner, and have taken up skiing recently. I have a phobia of heights, so it’s a double challenge!

My advice for women interested in a career in STEM:

  • Take charge by challenging yourself daily. Set goals.

  • Find the right company.

  • Take that entry-level position and learn by doing what you are passionate about.

  • Embrace the opportunities that present themselves.

  • Do not allow yourself to be limited by anything based on the opinion of others. You are more than a stereotype.

  • Gather the facts and be open to learning new skills.

  • Network your way to jobs you didn’t even know existed. Networking is invaluable to the health of any professional's career — but it's even more important in STEM fields.

As Sadie Tanner Mossell once said, “Don’t let anything stop you. There will be times when you'll be disappointed, but you can't stop. Make yourself the best that you can make out of what you are. The very best.”

All images contributed by Elie Khatami


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