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Champions of Change: Opportunities and Challenges For Women in STEM

March 12, 2018
To promote fresh thinking, new ideas and perspectives in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Mathematics) sectors, many companies, and organizations are encouraging young women to pursue STEM-related careers.
It’s estimated that women account for less than a third of those employed in STEM R&D jobs around the world today. In the U.S., women are underrepresented in both computer and mathematics roles (24.7%) and engineering and architecture (15.1%).

To “balance the equation” GE has set a target of having 20,000 women fill STEM roles throughout the company by 2020. The company is raising awareness through campaigns such as the “If You Can See It, You Can Be It” program, and others which highlight the advances of regional STEM role models such as Phan Kim Nen, Le Thi Thu Hang, and Le Thi La in Vietnam.

Our Women in STEM Champion today is Germae Phua, Quality Engineer with the Quality Control department from the GE Aviation team who shares more about her work journey so far – the opportunities and challenges - and career advice for young women with similar dreams.

GE Reports (GER):  Can you briefly describe your role and responsibilities?

Germae Phua (GP): As a Quality Engineer in the Quality Control department, my main responsibilities include conducting investigations and analysis around product quality issues. It’s vital then that we work to develop improvements to resolve any problems. A key part of my job is also to assess competencies of individuals working within the product line, and ensuring relevant regulations are complied with in daily operations to maintain and deliver the highest quality production at all times.

GER: What do you find exciting about your role?

GP: It’s an interesting role, typically centred around challenges experienced by various parties. This can be quite taxing when you face it on a daily basis. It’s hugely rewarding when you work within your team to help tackle and resolve these challenges, then seeing that shining aircraft engine shipped out to a customer and knowing you played a valuable part in enabling that to happen.

GER: What are some of the challenges that you face as a woman while working in an environment largely populated by men?

GP: The working environment can present wider challenges as a woman. My area has a large population of male employees, meaning it’s sometimes hard to fit in. That extra challenge can be exciting though, meaning that my own role and the progress within it is often a case of charting new ground for women.


GER: What did you pursue in your higher education and what were the challenges you faced back then?

GP: I studied Electrical Engineering at UNSW, Australia. Studying in that environment, the greatest challenge was the intensely technical nature of the subject, rather than any social barriers that were present along the way. Australia in particular has a very liberal mind-set, and encouraged people of all backgrounds to succeed on their degree. I’m particularly glad of the supportive infrastructure at the university, providing a great atmosphere for me to pursue my educational dreams.

GER: What do you think is the most significant barrier for women in Malaysia who wants to pursue STEM related careers?


GP: Reflecting on Malaysia today, I’d say that perceived gender roles offer one of the biggest barriers in pursuing STEM roles. It can be considerably conservative in Malaysia, and it’s quite easy for women to receive flak for making choices that might traditionally be seen as ‘out of the norm’. That often translates to a lack of support or encouragement, even from a young age. That’s not always true, and it’s lucky for some women that they don’t experience this directly.

Childcare can be another barrier we often overlook. STEM roles may need a great deal of time to be invested in them, and working mothers could well find childcare a barrier to pursuing that ambition. More widely Malaysia’s infrastructure for STEM education and pursuit of further studies in STEM don’t appear overly encouraging to me. I think there’s a gap between the reality of what a STEM career entails, and the expectations that are sometimes held.

GER: What advice would you give to other women who are looking to follow your footsteps?

If women really want to enjoy a future in STEM roles, I’d encourage them to do so because they truly enjoy the subject matter, not simply because you feel you have to. Don’t be fazed by lack of support or criticism, remember those are just people’s opinions. In following your own dreams, your opinion is the one that counts, and you are the one who should make decisions on what you do with it.

GER: How has GE played a role, be it providing opportunities that helped you develop, educate or build skills? 

I’ve been lucky to work with an organisation in GE that supports and aids me through these challenges. They not only offer the framework for continued advancement, but the opportunity for me to learn and grow my own understanding, whether that’s technical elements of just the soft-skills that are so vital.

Here’s a snapshot of Germae’s experience in GE.


 GE is committed to championing the women of STEM who make such a vital contribution to our own business. We aim to bridge the gender gap in STEM roles by striving to support 20,000 women in relevant positions by 2020, while promoting and obtaining equal representation across GE’s entry-level STEM programmes.