Tiffany Dawson is a former Mechanical Engineer who teaches women how to build their dream STEM careers. By the age of 27 Tiffany led a team of 30 engineers at a global engineering consultancy, however, in her 8-year engineering career, she experienced impostor syndrome and burnout. She learned the tools to overcome her lack of confidence and finally took back control of her career. Tiffany became so passionate about her new lease on life that she couldn’t stop sharing it, setting up her company to coach women who found themselves in a similar position.
Tiffany’s background (0.31)
My job is to help women in STEM to increase their confidence in male dominated workplaces. I encourage them to start thinking more strategically and empower them to become more influential so that they can become leaders in their field. I got into this field of work of coaching because of my own experiences as a woman in STEM. I was a Mechanical Engineer for about eight years in the Construction industry, a very male dominated work environment. I wasn’t really prepared for this at university, however, even as a Junior Engineer, I didn’t really face some of the issues that I did later on in life. The more senior I became though, the more imposter syndrome I felt.
Why did you decide on Engineering as a career? (02:13)
I don’t really have a really inspirational story to tell, I didn’t have an epiphany one day and realise that engineering was the thing that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was a process of elimination when I was choosing my school subjects; I knew I was good at maths and I enjoyed physics. When it came to choosing my university degree, I felt it was right, i didn’t want to do anything else. My dad is also an electrical engineer, so I’m sure there was some form of influence there – you’ll find that a lot of female engineers have at least one parent who has some sort of link to engineering which is interesting.
What do you focus on in your coaching business and how is your approach unique? (04.09)
There are two main coaching activities that I do. One is private coaching in which I spend one on one time with women in STEM careers. The other is group workshops in which I spend time with a group of women in STEM careers. The similar thing with both of them is that I do a mixture of coaching and teaching. I like to teach frameworks for dealing with situations or difficult scenarios where you’re not confident, it’s really helpful to have some sort of tool to use and a process to follow until you develop. So for example, the more senior you become the more difficult conversations you have to have, and no one really teaches you how to do it, which is why so many of our leaders are so terrible at approaching subjects with their team members.
With the coaching aspect, we really delve into the limiting beliefs that women might have in terms of their ability to progress in their careers. Maybe they believe that they’re bad at something when they’re really not, or they have some sort of barrier that’s put in front of them (whether they put that barrier in front of themselves, or by the organisation), I’ll help them to navigate and overcome those obstacles.
What I coach centres around helping women to find a way to support themselves despite the situation that they’ve found themselves in. There’s always something you can do, no matter where you are to create a career that you really enjoy waking up to everyday… something that’s really purposeful, something that means something to you, and something that allows you to work in a way that really highlights your strengths, rather than you feeling like you have to work on your weaknesses all the time, because no one likes doing that.
How can organisations be more inclusive? (08:47)
It’s important to understand that gender diversity in a workplace is important for everyone, not just for the women working in them. It’s not just a ‘nice to have’. Sometimes it feels like gender equality comes under the umbrella of corporate social responsibility, and it’s subsequently viewed almost like a charity case that gets paid attention to every now and then. There are so many stats out there that say companies with gender diversity are more profitable, so it’s actually a business decision; it also means that both men and women feel more engaged at work when there is a diverse range of people.
I think that’s the first thing that companies need to do is to educate their leaders first and then their staff members as to why it’s so important. I want all business leaders in STEM to know that no one has figured it all out – don’t be afraid to make a mistake. There are so many leaders out there who they feel like they’d rather not take any action in case they make a fool of themselves, or offend someone. However, not doing anything is probably the worst thing that you can do.
Working together as a team towards gender diversity is the best option, it’s much more successful than leaving leaders to feel like they have to have all the answers and that they should have it figured out before they take a first step. Be open and honest with your staff members and say, “hey, we’re going to try this thing to see if it works. I’m open to feedback, if it’s not working, or if it’s leaving a group of people out, please come and tell us”. The one thing I’d say is that there’s a lot of talk, but not that much action and this attitude can really help alleviate this.
I honestly think that if your heart is in the right place, you will never come across as being someone who seems patronising. Sometimes our fears of saying the wrong thing or appearing to be patronising will make us say funny things, but if you really want to help, then you will find a way to reach out and to help these women progress.
Talk to us about your podcast “How to be a STEMinist” – do you have any stand out highlights? (11.35)
The main gist that I try to get across is that confidence isn’t just about faking it till you make it, it’s not just about speaking up when you feel you should, and it’s not about being loud in the workplace – it’s really just about being able to trust yourself. In my very first episode, I share a lot about my own personal experiences with imposter syndrome that I experienced when I was an Engineering Manager, which a lot of people could relate to.
Secondly, the podcast explores strategic thinking; this is something that I feel like no one really talks about and no one teaches you how to do – you’re almost expected to learn how to do on the job. Despite this, strategic thinking is so important for you to progress into those mid to senior levels of your career. Unfortunately, it is something that usually gets taught through informal conversations at work and in mentorship that women in male dominated environments have less access to because of the makeup of a company/ ratio of female to male senior leaders above them.
What is a“STEMinist” and how can we advocate for equality within STEM? (15:18)
STEMinist is an amalgamation of the word stem and earnest. To me, it’s someone who advocates for equality in a STEM workplace or in the STEM fields of work. Gender equality is not the only diversity issue in STEM, it’s really quite a non-diverse area of work in all aspects.
The best way you can become an advocate for equality is to make sure that if you do work in STEM, that you find a way to absolutely love your job; that’s the best way you can encourage other people to begin a career in STEM. There’s a massive shortage of STEM workers and it’s hard to hire good quality professionals, the only way that we can encourage more people to consider STEM job options is to really make it be seen as something that’s enjoyable, a job that doesn’t swallow up the rest of your life, that allows you to work on something that you really care about and enables you to live a full life in all aspects holistically.
Did you have any female role models? (19:45)
In my first ever job I had an amazing female role model who really took me under her wing; she was not just the type of engineer I wanted to be, but she also had the lifestyle that I wanted. Outside of work, she had a social life and wasn’t the type of person who gave up their whole lives for their careers, that was something that was really important to me. I was really lucky to have this female role model and she really helped me answer some difficult questions when I needed to be prodded and pushed in realising my career goals. A lot of the other male leaders in my company at the time didn’t seem to have a life outside of work. In other workplaces, I’ve also had some amazing male mentors, who, yes, they weren’t females, but they also were people who had a lifestyle that I wanted to have growing up. So yes, I was able to draw from different types of people!
What advice would you give those who are looking to move into leadership or management positions? (26.52)
My number one piece of advice is – you don’t have to plan your whole career ahead of time, think of your career as a series of experiments. A lot of us put so much pressure on ourselves in terms of planning exactly where we’re going. We think that our careers are a linear path, but it’s not always that way.
If you could change one thing about the engineering industry to make it more inclusive, what would it be? (27.54)
I would love to wave a magic wand and make the board of directors/ the top leadership team at every single engineering company 50% women for 12 months. I can guarantee that it would make such a massive difference to diversity as a whole, to revenue made in the company and to engagement for all staff.
Lastly, what’s one piece of advice you want to share? (29.37)
Regardless of gender and whether you work in STEM or not, if you’re going through some sort of challenge in your career I want you to know that you don’t have to figure things out on your own; other people go through similar experiences so just reach out and talk to someone about it. I think so many times we are so ashamed of facing these challenges because we put so much pressure on ourselves to get things right, but no one is perfect. Actually, the most successful people are the ones who do reach out for help when they need it. If you have no one to reach out to, please come and reach out to me – if I can’t help, I guarantee I’ll have some sort of resource or someone I can point you to who will be able to assist you.
This interview was conducted as part of our Let’s Get Inclusive initiative, which aims to spotlight key individuals and role models within the Technology and Engineering spaces. For more about Tiffany, take a look at her LinkedIn profile here.
Our Engineering team works with a variety of passionate and innovative clients. To understand our specialisms, take a look at our dedicated Engineering page. If you’re currently looking to recruit a tech professional to join your team, send your requirement to Engineering Delivery Lead:
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