View of women in dark business attire sitting on modern couches chatting.
From left: Nicola Magill, Clare Shaw, Louisa Hickey. Image: Luke Maxwell/

Why do women in STEM feel the need to ‘prove themselves’ in the workplace?

16 Dec 2019

Though great gains have been made in the realm of workplace gender equality, women in STEM can still face some unique challenges.

Women currently have a role in the workplace that may have been totally unthinkable in the past, even as recently as 50 years ago.

It once was the case that women were limited in the kinds of roles they could attain, limited in how much they were paid and limited in the circumstances in which they were entitled to work. Up until 1973, women working in the civil service were forced to leave their roles if they got married. Women even took on their spouse’s tax numbers (with a ‘W’ affixed to the end, for ‘wife’) in Ireland until the 1990s.

Unquestionably, progress has been made. This does not mean, however, that there isn’t more to be improved, nor does it mean that women no longer have unique issues they must contend with in the workplace. This can especially be the case for women working in STEM, given that they are in a generally male-dominated industry.

As Nicola Magill, principal engineer in process development at Amgen, points out, imposter syndrome can still plague women in the modern workplace. Although she has risen up the ranks and now manages a nine-person team, she said that many women still feel the need to “prove themselves, beyond what is required” at work.

She says that she has ever seen any bias between male and female colleagues, but adds: “I do hold myself to a very high standard to prove that I have actually earned my position here.”

Magill also points to a dearth of female mentors as another potential issue for women in STEM: “Having a strong female role model and mentor is really important for your career, but it’s not always available for everyone, so I’ve been very lucky in my career in Amgen that there are strong female role models that have guided me along the way.”

‘Women don’t exist’

Louisa Hickey, a specialist in manufacturing at Amgen, also notes that there are a number of misconceptions about how women fare in STEM, and these could, if left unchallenged, deter more people from entering the field.

“Some misconceptions that are surrounding our field is that women don’t exist or maybe struggle to compete in the area of manufacturing. In the right company, though, I think women can be successful.”

The life sciences industry is, senior quality control manager Clare Shaw adds, a great place for women to grow their careers, offering multiple routes of entry. There are many different third-level qualifications that can lead you to a job in pharmaceuticals, for example.

“It’s a huge industry – a lot of different departments that all come together to make the drugs for the patient, and lots of opportunity,” Shaw says.

“Go with what you’re interested in. You’re going to be doing your role for a number of years, you need to enjoy what you’re interested in.”

To hear more advice from women working at Amgen, check out the video interview in full above.

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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