Women in STEM: Breaking stereotypes and overcoming personal bias and fear

Women in STEM: Breaking stereotypes and overcoming personal bias and fear

This year’s International Women’s Day theme #BreakTheBias focused on gender equality and diversity, as well as elevating and advancing gender parity in technology while celebrating the women forging innovation.

Breaking stereotypes is imperative to achieving this mission, according to Karla Wong (pictured), country sales leader for the commercial sector in Peru at Amazon Web Services Inc.

“When you talk about stereotypes, we need to understand that bias is not only what the society is giving you. It’s also your own bias, because we need to understand that technology careers are not only for men; they’re also for women,” Wong explained. “We cannot stop believing in ourselves … get inspired by women with great achievements who have changed this world of technology. So the first bias we need to break is the bias that you have of yourself.”

Wong spoke with Lisa Martin, host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming studio, during the Women in Tech: International Women’s Day event. They discussed why personal bias and fear hinder women from joining STEM and how volunteer work has nurtured Wong’s personal and professional life.

Going the extra mile

Stereotypes that engineering is a male-only field should not stop women from chasing their dreams, according to Wong.

“My challenges started with the moment I decided to start engineering … a career traditionally considered for men only. Although this changes over time, you will realize that the stereotype remains in many people’s minds,” Wong pointed out. “Someone once asked me if I wouldn’t like to study something easier for a woman … and when I received that question, that helped me reaffirm that I was making the right decision.”

Given that women are resilient, inclusive, courageous, and can multitask, Wong trusts they should maximize these strengths to succeed in the STEM field.

“Lesson learned is please don’t think that you cannot do it … if you go and things do not work well, try it again and again,” she noted. “So we need to explore our strengths by transforming our fears.”

For innovation to happen, curiosity has to sink in. This, coupled with mentorship from family, is what made her interested in technology and engineering. Wong’s family noticed she was good at math and suggested she consider an engineering career.  

“Since I was little, I was just fascinated with technology, and all the time I was just trying to figure out how to do things and how to build them,” Wong said.

Despite significant advances being made to integrate women into science and technology, Wong believes the equality gap still lingers based on discriminatory attitudes.

“Sometimes the position for a woman is not necessarily for merit; it’s just to fulfill a gender quota, and when it’s fulfilled, there are no more opportunities … so it’s still a long way to go,” she added.

Having started volunteer work 14 years ago, including helping children with cancer and patients with rare diseases, Wong believes it complements her personal and professional life because she views things from a different perspective.

“Volunteering can be an excellent getaway to find unique and valuable experiences that are very difficult to find on a day-to-day basis,” Wong explained. “You develop your real-life skills, openness to criticism, responsibility, humility, commitment, service, attitude, and many things that you can proactively include in your job.” 

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of the Women in Tech: International Women’s Day event.

Photo: SiliconANGLE

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