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.
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 Jessintha Nathan, Senior Product Cost and Pricing Leader from GE Aviation 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?
Jessintha Nathan (JN): As Senior Product Cost/Pricing Leader, my priority is managing aircraft engine overhaul costs for GE’s Customised Service Agreement (CSA) customers. This work is a collaborative effort between teams from both the United States and Malaysia. I analyse cost trends, solicit feedback on potential cost-out initiatives, and lead execution of process change to implementation.
My team actually works remotely, based at overhaul locations in the UK, US, and Latin America. This type of working structure is not uncommon in GE, and if anything has helped me build resilience. It’s such an exciting role, especially when all our action turns into a key result. That really gets my adrenaline going! The teams I work with face some tough business challenges, with the added challenge of cost management, and I’m always in awe of what we achieve by working together in synergy.
GER: What do you find exciting about your role, and what have been some of the challenges faced working a male-dominated sector?
JN: Of course, it’s not always some easy yellow brick road when you’re just one of two women with a seat in a meeting. In that environment validation demands twice the speed of execution, and camaraderie is built on respect for your expertise. I take pride in being a woman in a man’s world though. GE Aviation is primarily a male-dominated area, but we’re slowly working our way towards gender parity. This is evident in Malaysia where HR is clearly committed to hiring and maintaining the best in female talent, career seekers, and professionals.
GER: What did you pursue in your higher education and what were the challenges you faced back then?
JN: My own path was very much defined by my education. When I graduated secondary school in the late1990s, Computer Science and IT was the big buzz in town. I naturally gravitated towards enrolling, and graduated with a Diploma in Computer Science from University Putra Malaysia, before going on to a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronic Commerce from Multimedia University, Cyberjaya.
Despite some of my own reservations, my father really inspired me deciding on IT. In hindsight, learning to code taught me a form of logic that’s applicable to problem solving in and out of the boardroom. Often, I’m asked the question, ‘from IT to Aviation?’ – My experience has shown me that education sets the stage, and your aptitude takes you the distance.
GER: What do you think is the most significant barrier for women in Malaysia who wants to pursue STEM related careers?
JN: It’s clear there are still barriers for women in Malaysia today. Gender stereotyping when it comes to selecting an educational path is still a problem as early as the school years, and we have to work to eradicate that. It’s important for parents and educators alike to encourage young girls to pursue their dreams of becoming scientists, engineers, surgeons, physicists and so forth.
The educational ecosystem must work to spur interest of the sciences, provide avenues of interactive learning, and promote equal if not favourable opportunities for young girls into these fields.
Equally important is that corporations must be more aware of succumbing to lax hiring stereotypes. I quote Margaret Heffernan from her TED talk ‘Forget the Pecking Order’ – more successful groups have more women in them.
GER: What advice would you give to other women who are looking to follow your footsteps?
JN: Ultimately if I was going to give advice to the next generation of women in STEM out there, it would be to let your curiosity lead the way. My discovery of aviation was not predestined; I jumped in head first and then learnt to swim.
GER: How has GE played a role, be it providing opportunities that helped you develop, educate or build skills?
JN: I’m lucky that on my GE journey, the organisation has offered avenues for my learning and development. It didn’t discourage me when I experienced failures, but lent a hand to pick me up. Admittedly there were challenging moments where the learning is steep, but us women are genetically coded to take on the toughest of challenges!
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At GE we’re committed to aim to tackling the gender gap in STEM roles by targeting 20,000 women in relevant STEM roles by 2020, while working to ensure equal representation across our entry-level STEM programmes.