By Arifa Chakera

As I reflect on my journey in the field of STEM, I’m reminded of the highs and the lows that have shaped me into the professional I am today. From my early fascination with science and geography to my determination to make a difference in the world, my path has been marked by resilience, perseverance, and a commitment to breaking barriers.

Growing up in Kenya, where access to water and electricity was a luxury rather than a necessity, I was acutely aware of the disparities that existed in society. It was this awareness that sparked my initial interest in engineering – the desire to create solutions that would ensure essential resources were accessible to all, regardless of their background or circumstances.

Battling stereotypes and self-doubt

My journey into the world of STEM was not without its obstacles. As a woman entering a male-dominated field, I often found myself having to prove my worth and competence in ways that my male counterparts did not. The pressure to constantly prove myself took a toll on my confidence and well-being, and there were moments when I questioned whether I belonged in this space at all.

One of the key challenges I faced early on was the perception that as a woman, I may not be as capable as my male colleagues. This stereotype, though frustrating, served as a catalyst for me to push myself harder and strive for excellence in everything I did. However, this constant need to prove myself eventually took its toll, leading to a loss of confidence and identity.

Finding strength in seeking support

It was during this difficult period that I learned the power of vulnerability and the importance of seeking help when needed. By opening up about my struggles and asking for support, I discovered a newfound strength that allowed me to navigate through adversity with grace and resilience. I realised that I didn’t have to have all the answers or solutions and that it was okay to ask for help when I needed it.

One pivotal moment in my career came when I had to confront a safety issue on a construction site. Despite facing resistance and hostility, I stood firm in my decision to prioritise safety above all else. It was a daunting experience, but it taught me invaluable lessons in self-belief and steadfastness. I learned to trust in my knowledge and expertise, even when it was being challenged, and to remain composed in the face of adversity.

Empowering the next generation

To young women who are considering a career in STEM, I offer these words of encouragement: embrace your curiosity, persist in making your voice heard, and never let anyone dim your light. Draw inspiration from the achievements of women who have paved the way before you and celebrate their contributions to the field. And remember, every challenge you face is an opportunity for growth and learning.

We need to help overcome the misconceptions about women in STEM, especially the belief that there are only a few career options available. In reality, the possibilities are vast and diverse, spanning various fields from technology to engineering. To address this, involving teachers and families in STEM programs can showcase the breadth of opportunities and encourage exploration.

Another misconception is viewing STEM solely as academic subjects, overlooking the potential to design and innovate for a better world. By highlighting the real-world application of STEM and emphasising creativity and problem-solving, we can remove this misconception and attract more women to these areas.

Advocating for women’s leadership in STEM

Looking ahead, I see a future where women play an even greater role in shaping scientific and technological advancements. As the world continues to evolve, so too must our approach to encouraging and supporting women in STEM. We must advocate for diversity and inclusivity, foster supportive environments, and showcase the impact of STEM fields in practice

In order to encourage more women to enter and thrive in the sector, we must start by highlighting female role models and making STEM education more engaging and inclusive. By showcasing the breadth of opportunities available in these industries and providing support and encouragement to young girls from an early age, we can empower them to pursue their passions and excel in their chosen fields.

Reflecting on resilience

As I look back on my own journey, I’m filled with gratitude for the challenges I’ve faced and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Each obstacle has made me stronger, more resilient, and more resolved to make a difference in the world. While the road ahead may be long and uncertain, I am confident that with perseverance, determination, and a supportive community by our side, women in STEM can achieve anything they set their minds to.


About the author

Arifa Chakera, programme and engagement director at Axiologik, is a Chartered Civil Engineer with over 25 years of consultancy and delivery experience. She’s had a challenging and rewarding career to date and has overcome being a female in a male-dominated environment in STEM sectors. Sharing her experiences, Arifa has valuable insights and advice for other women looking to embark on a STEM career.

Arifa is the programme and engagement director for Axiologik, with a specific focus on the utility sector. She has a proven track record in successfully delivering comprehensive programmes in the utility sector — including water, oil and gas — in a planned, controlled and cost-effective manner. By using best practice concepts, she ensures that solutions are tailored to meet defined strategic needs. In her role, she aims to develop client relationships whilst drawing upon Axiologik’s team expertise to help the utility industry use technology to its full potential. Connect with Arifa on LinkedIn.


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