Dominating Confidence as a Woman in STEM

Girls in Engineering at NASA

Girls in Engineering at NASA

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned, is that how confident my teammates are in my abilities to accomplish something, is heavily dependent on how confident I am in myself.
— Mary Nguyen

Now more than ever, I find that there is something absolutely empowering about being a woman in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math). We are defying stereotypes every single day, paving the road for future generations and making history.

Talk about shattering glass ceilings! Yet one of the toughest challenges a woman can face in her career - is how to grow and maintain her confidence.

If you’re anything like me, some days you’ll feel like you’re superwoman - you wake up, drink coffee and crush every single task or challenge you set for yourself, and then some. And other days, you might question your own self-worth. “Am I doing enough?” “Am I doing good enough?”

Or maybe you feel like you should give up on your goals, because…just maybe…you don’t deserve your success. Or maybe you’re afraid to demand professional growth, because you fear rejection. Or maybe you shouldn’t take on a certain opportunity, because you fear failure.

These are all thoughts that have filled my mind before. Regardless of how “confident” I or someone else may seem, we’re all only human.

It’s important to know that what I mention above exists more than we think, in both women and men. However, being in a field that is predominately compromised of men, it can be even more intimidating for a woman to push beyond her comfort zone, self-validate, and own her worth.

So I’ve gathered some tips in how I’ve personally overcame fear and self-doubt in the past in order to dominate confidence in (and out) of the office!

My secret: it’s a chain effect

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned, is that how confident my teammates (or even friends and family) are in my abilities to accomplish something, is heavily dependent on how confident I am in myself.

In other words, no one can truly believe in you, more than you. So in my highest pressured moments, I put on a brave face and deliberately convince myself that I am ready and able.

Only then, will others become more confident in me, thus causing me to become even more confident in myself. It’s literally an intentional action and reaction.

When has this been effective? For me, it’s been right before giving a big presentation or speech, taking on a project/task outside of my comfort zone, or stepping up into a leadership role for a group activity.

I give myself some pep talks, fill myself with good thoughts and affirmation, and ask my team members for their positive words and support!

Be you, own you

I love being a woman. I feel my strongest and most confident when I wear what makes me feel good and comfortable. And most days - that’s simply plants, a blouse and heels!

Yet, some of us fear that somehow our appearance or merely gender - will make others perceive us as less competent or capable. One of the worst things we can do, though, is be less of ourselves or try to be more of someone else.

Of course we have to maintain professionalism. But we also all have certain, unique traits that makes us who we are. Use your distinctiveness as leverage to stand out and be more easily recognizable.

So forget about trying to blend in or decreasing your femininity. As a woman, you already stand out. Own it!

Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses

Self-reflection is something I try to do, often. Not just in my career, but also personally. Understanding your strengths allows you to capitalize your strong points.

However, it is also equally important to know your weaknesses. Dig deep and evaluate the things that are hindering your growth and then do what’s necessary to sharpen your weaknesses. Tending to our weaknesses lets us know that we’re actively evolving and moving forward.

One of my weaknesses is that I tend to spread myself too thin. I take on a lot tasks (because I’m passionate and have a “can-do” attitude) - only to get anxious, overwhelmed, and over-loaded on caffeine later.

So I work on this by frequently journaling not only my tasks and goals, but also my thoughts and emotions. I give myself small tasks to accomplish each day, instead of a giant list of everything I need to do.

I break them down and focus on one thing at a time. Then I evaluate my progress and how it makes me feel. Whether I end up doing too little or too much, I will know because I’m keeping track, which allows to adjust accordingly.

This is not to say that I’m perfect in this process. Some days I just wing it, because like I said, I’m only human! But it’s important to determine what we need to work on and intentionally take action.

Know your worth

How do we truly determine our worth? Is it in our salary? Is it how often we stand up for ourselves and say “no”? Is it possessing the capability of voicing our feedback and believing that what we have to say is important?

It’s all of that and much more. In terms of salary, negotiations and expressing interests - if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no. In terms of personal/professional worth - we have to recognize that we are valuable and act accordingly.

I know that I am valuable by realizing that I’ve worked just as hard as the next person (if not more) to be where I am today. With this mindset, I am more able to stand my ground and express my professional interests, feedback, or concerns.

I am also less afraid to demand growth, because I know that I am worthy.

Yes, you may be the shy or introverted one. If you find yourself often “sweeping things under the rug” or hiding in a corner at meetings, then it may be time to push yourself out there a little more and work on increasing assertiveness.

And no, I don’t mean you need to get all cocky or crazy to thrive. I just mean - determine what ways you are valuable to yourself and others and don’t be afraid to show it.

You are here because you possess the qualities that deem you important and necessary. Use it as a tool to drive your confidence and self-validate.

Expand your network

The power of networking is real. One of the most helpful, confident-boosting thing I’ve started doing this past year is deliberately reach out and connect to others who share my similar journey, interests, and vision.

My tribe (whether online or in real life) is compromised of women and men of all career fields with a common goal - to share, support one another and succeed.

Engaging with others help you build friendships that are essential to your growth. Work on putting yourself out there so that others can find you, help support you, and keep you accountable!

Do more things that scare you

I always reflect on my very first summer internship when I think about the biggest risk I could’ve taken in my Engineering undergrad. I was offered a job for the summer out of state. I totaled my car 2 weeks prior to my start date. I was barely getting by with my serving job at the time + paying bills. And then I had to buy a new car and possibly paid more bills out of state?!

Long story short - I was so afraid it wasn’t going to work out in my favor, but I accepted it. And it became one of the best learning experiences ever.

Sometimes we turn down opportunities out of fear of failure, before recognizing how far it can take us. This could be as big as taking on a career opportunity hundreds of miles away from home, or as small as speaking in front of a crowd (which isn’t exactly small for me either, hello fear of public speaking).

But if you have any belief that it could at all work or become a successful achievement, let that be louder than any thoughts of why it couldn’t. You’ll be amazed by how much your confidence boosts, just from accomplishing the things you are most afraid of!