Girls in ICT day: Zara’s journey into STEM

Posted: April 24, 2020

To celebrate Girls in ICT Day, we sat down with Zara Ahmed, who is currently part of AVEVA’s graduate scheme in the Cambridge, UK office. Zara talks about her experience entering a STEM role, and how retaining women in STEM is just as important as attracting them.

Can you tell us about your journey into STEM?

I think I unconsciously gained an interest in STEM at a very early age, probably from around 11 or 12 years old. I liked gaming and problem solving, and therefore naturally thought that choosing STEM subjects while at secondary school was a good fit for me. This eventually drove my decision to apply for a STEM related course at university.

During my studies, I stumbled across a WES (Women’s Engineering Society) conference that was being hosted at my university. This was the first time I was exposed to female role models, and I was absolutely amazed at the career journeys of the women speakers. I left the event with sheer motivation and confidence in my abilities in pursuing a career in tech. Because of this experience, I tried to engage in networking events, and I feel that this had a positive impact on my university years. Not only did this introduce me to prospective employers, but also gave me a chance to meet and learn from the experiences of women (and men) working in the industry.

I graduated in Computer Science from Aston university, and during that time I undertook two internships. My first internship saw me undertake a Research Intern role, with Beautiful Canoe, a non-profit organization that originated from my university’s computer science department.  In this role I learnt and built an android application. During my second internship I worked at Microsoft Research, and this role gave me the opportunity to work on application design and appreciate human-computer interaction.

After graduating and completing a master’s in project management at the University of Birmingham, I joined AVEVA’s graduate scheme in January 2019 as a Technical Graduate.

Can you tell us about your role at AVEVA?

As part of the graduate program, I have worked in the Global Information Services (GIS) and was part of the Advance Transformation programme – an initiative that emerged from the AVEVA-Schneider Electric merger to establish how we could successfully combine our products and customer processes. In this role, I was working as a Junior Data/Business Analyst. I'm now in one of the E3D development teams and primarily focus on learning how to program and fix application bugs. On the side, I have initiated a number STEM outreach initiatives, where I help the team search for new ways to encourage women into the sector.

Have you been involved in any initiatives which promote diversity/women in STEM?

Before AVEVA, I was a STEM ambassador while at university. I was also involved with the Code First: Girls organization. Through this initiative I coached female undergraduate students, who were studying subjects outside STEM, whilst they built their first website.

Last year I was involved in AVEVA’s International Women's Day event where I gave a short presentation about my journey as a graduate and how I joined AVEVA. This year to celebrate International Women’s Day, I hosted the AVEVA Outreach panel, where four female employees of AVEVA all talked about what they had done to support STEM outreach in their careers.

What do you think can be done to entice more women into STEM?

Recently there's been a huge effort from organizations and corporate companies in terms of getting younger girls into STEM subjects and STEM careers. However, there's hasn’t been the same level of investment to help retain women already in STEM roles.

When it comes to retaining women in STEM, it’s important to support them. It’s great to get young girls excited about STEM, or to get them to choose STEM subjects, but once someone is in a tech career it's more difficult for organizations to retain those women.

To combat this, organizations need to provide parents with attractive maternity and paternity packages or allow and encourage flexible working hours. It is important that employees are given the chance to re-enter the workforce while continuing to spend time with their families. However, I feel this comes as a part of a wider cultural shift whereby women are fully aware of the career path that is ahead of them. This is also where female role models are so important – organizations with leadership teams consisting of all men will understandably made women question whether there is career progression for them.

What does International Women’s Day and Girls in ICT Day mean to you?

For me, I think International Women’s Day and Girls in ICT Day is a great way to celebrate the work and efforts of women in the tech industry. Although both days primarily focus on women, I feel that they give us a chance to pause from our day to day routine and think about how we can promote more gender inclusive environments inside and outside our working lives.

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