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Ada Lovelace
Science & Technology Series: Expert Comment

The business of women in STEM

Cass Business School is contributing to celebrations for Ada Lovelace Day on Tuesday 13th October by championing female students who work in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

by City Press Office (General enquiries)

Born Ada Gordon in 1815, Ada Lovelace was the only child of poet Lord Byron and his wife Annabella Milbanke. Fascinated with machines, she was taught science, logic and mathematics from an early age and designed boats and steam flying engines. In 1833, Lovelace was introduced to mathematician Charles Babbage. Between 1842 and 1843, she translated an article by Luigi Menabrea on Babbage's general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. She supplemented her translation with notes containing what is considered to be the first ever computer program - an algorithm encoded for processing by a machine.

Ada Lovelace Day is a way to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire.

Cass Associate Dean, MBA Programmes, Dr Sionade Robinson said: “The story of Ada Lovelace inspires many women and girls around the world. We too want to recognise the huge contribution women are making in STEM subjects, where regrettably they are still somewhat under-represented in senior positions. 

“An MBA is about increasing business and organisational literacy, creating new opportunities and building leadership confidence. Ada had a strong technical expertise (in mathematics) combined with a strong interest in practical problem solving and a friendly and collaborative style  – an ideal Cass MBA candidate in fact.”

To Celebrate Ada Lovelace Day Cass Business School has launched an MBA scholarship for Women in STEM fields.

Here three MBA students talk about their experiences in STEM careers:

Natalija Natalija Karpichina is a Business and Digital Consultant

Dr Roisin Nicamhlaoibh is an Associate Director, Business Management at Cancer Research Technology
SagarSaghar Kasiri is Laboratory Manager / Senior Clinical Embryologist

What made you decide to get into Science/Technology/Engineering/Maths at the first stage of your career?
Natalija: I was always good at maths and science and having got my first computer at the age of 14, I quickly became interested in programming. I started coding at the age of 14 in Pascal and HTML, and spent the remainder of my high school attending advanced informatics and mathematics classes and taking part in competitions. It has been an easy choice to go to software engineering/computer science.
Roisin: From as young as I can remember I have always enjoyed solving puzzles of some sort. In school that progressed from really enjoying maths to balancing chemical equations but it was only once I began my BSc studies I realised, for me, the greatest puzzle of all was how the smallest of changes in our DNA could have such fundamental effects on our health and lives – and then I was hooked in to wanting to understand more and forging a career in fixing those puzzles.
Saghar: I grew up in a family where my mother, my aunt and my uncle were all mathematicians. My mother had also been a co-author of a mathematical analysis book and a Maths Examination Board Member. Therefore from a young age I was exposed and encouraged to learn both Science and Maths.

What women inside or outside the industry inspired you?
Natalija: I had very inspiring female teachers in maths, physics, and chemistry who taught us exciting stories about Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Nicolas Tesla, Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing and others. These stories about challenge, search, perseverance and discovery always fascinated me.
Roisin: I had a fantastically determined female post-doctorate supervisor in a predominantly male faculty who supported her staff as only a woman can! But for me it is more a question of individual events rather than people that have inspired me in my career – my STEM career would not exist if it wasn’t for the discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick, and topically the influence of Rosalind Franklin on that discovery and the generations of discoveries since in multiple STEM disciplines that will one day deliver solutions to a multitude of diseases.
Saghar: My mother was my role model; she worked in a field that was mostly dominated by men but yet she managed to exceed and be very successful in her career. I, therefore, had no fear of entering a field that would be male-oriented.

What advice would you give young women thinking about a STEM career?
Natalija: I would just encourage young women to get started! I think the stigma of women in tech is fading and becomes more of a myth, as people like Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, Ginni Rometty and many others become inspiring examples. A practical piece of advice - do read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.  
Roisin: One piece of advice I would give to those starting out in a STEM career and are interested in a business role is to consider incorporating business studies during your STEM studies or career as the skills are complimentary and not necessarily in ready supply in the workplace.
Saghar: As women, the first and foremost is to believe in ourselves, in our capabilities and to set a clear vision of where we would want to be long term. Although not entirely, the gender gaps in the STEM career are thankfully narrowing. There are many female inspirational figures in these fields; we should be able to draw strength and inspiration from these figureheads. As future mothers and the first point of contact, we have an immense responsibility of educating our children, and there is no better way than to be their role model.

"As women, first and foremost we should believe in ourselves, in our capabilities and set a clear vision of where we want to be."

What barriers are there for women in your field of work?
Natalija: I think that in IT strategy/analysis/development the only barrier is the psychological one. Many boards are still dominated by white middle-aged men, but this situation is quickly changing.
Roisin: Unfortunately as in many industries senior positions are dominated by males. In academia approximately 50% of life sciences undergrads are female; this number falls slightly at post-doc level and dramatically at faculty level. An equally depressing statistic can be seen at Board level in the pharmaceutical industry. However, especially in the case of the pharmaceutical  industry this is unlikely to be due to gender discrimination but rather the fact that a career at Board level in pharma requires a business background, a field where in general women trail men.
Saghar: Embryology is a demanding field physically, mentally and emotionally. The majority of clinics work on seven days a week basis with very early starts to the working day. Continuously working to a very tight time-frame for every procedure when dealing with human gametes and embryos, this means that unfinished work can never be left to the next day as it would be too late! Very high concentration levels are needed at all times since we are creating life. Emotionally the highs and lows can be quite challenging. Taking these issues into account, it is a demanding field for a woman that has or would like to start a family. The latter can be a barrier in obtaining high positions in the field of embryology.

What motivated you to take an MBA?
Natalija: I felt that I didn’t have a good knowledge base in business. In order to allow businesses to build IT systems that enable them to compete to win, I realised that I need to know the basics of the business. What is the value chain? What is the strategy? How is competition driven in industries?
Roisin: Once a scientist, always a scientist I’m afraid! I have always had a need to know and understand the field I work in better. For the past 12 years I have worked in a business role commercialising early stage life science discoveries without any formal training in business studies. I reached a stage in my career where I decided I wanted to fill in the gaps in my knowledge.
Saghar: Having worked in the field of fertility in the last 20 years, I have experienced working in both large and small assisted conception units in both NHS and the private sector. The majority of fertility treatments are private, and those funded by NHS are subject to ‘postcode lottery’. Therefore, this branch of medicine is becoming an ever growing health care “business”. I have worked in clinics providing excellent health care procedures but that weren’t, unfortunately, profitable businesses and ultimately ceased existence. On the other hand, some clinics that are performing well as a business tend to let patients down on the health care part. In my opinion, the fertility industry has to cater for all the three pillars of health, care and business to be successful. Ineffective application of this triangle business model lets patients, staff and financial investors down. I was very keen to narrow the gap between the fields of science/medicine and business, hence embarking on an MBA. Unfortunately the advantages of an MBA remain unknown to many people in the field of healthcare. According to my own research, I am currently the only female embryologist in the UK who is doing an MBA.

How do you see an MBA helping you progress your career in STEM?
Natalija: As a consultant, I see myself progressing in two main directions that have been previously less accessible to me. One is growing the business I have worked in for the past three and a half years, defining its strategy and looking how it can be expanded. Another direction is the consulting work I do. With my new knowledge in the main principles of the business, I will be in a better place to advise companies on their growth. Also, an MBA brings a large network of contacts with it.
Roisin: I believe an MBA will provide me with complementary skills to those I have already acquired in my career and will better equip me for leadership positions in the future. The exposure to different industries and addressing questions completely unrelated to my own industry will provide me with the confidence to tackle cross-industry opportunities that are inevitable as the lines between disciplines are blurred in the 21st century.
Saghar: By doing the MBA, I will be able to tackle some of the weakness in the industry where I work. I will be looking to expand my knowledge, skills and competencies. I am aiming to focus my future career either directly as a Healthcare Manager or indirectly as Healthcare Business Consultant. Cass can provide me with an opportunity to learn and develop my knowledge provided by experienced staff in an environment shared with diverse and highly successful cohorts.

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