A trailblazing MD: Paulette Watson’s role in empowering women in STEM
We talk to Paulette Watson, Founder and Manager Director at Academy Achievers, about being recognised as an inspirational businesswoman in STEM and construction, the challenges she’s faced along the way and much more.
Conceived by Roni Savage, CEO and Founder of Jomas Associates (Engineering & Environmental), a construction services company, the Inspirational Business Women in STEM & Construction initiative was a response to the findings of The Alison Rose Review. This UK Government-commissioned review highlighted the underrepresentation of women entrepreneurs in the UK’s most productive sectors and the potential for female entrepreneurship to contribute an additional £250bn to the economy. The review also stressed the need to encourage young women to study STEM subjects as a means to boost female start-up rates in these sectors, particularly given that women hold only 29.4% of STEM roles.
The initiative aimed to identify exceptional women entrepreneurs in STEM and Construction, serving as influential role models for future generations. These remarkable individuals challenge the norms in industries traditionally dominated by men.
What sector of the STEM workforce do you work for and how did you get there?
My experience in the STEM workforce ranges from the Public and Private sectors: I have been Director of ICT, NED, School Governor, Digital Transformation & AI consultant, and Educator, leading on STEM and developing the ICT infrastructure.
How does it feel to be recognised as an Inspirational Business Woman in STEM and Construction?
I feel a sense of pride, accomplishment, and motivation. This recognition has provided a platform for all my hard work over the last 28 years where I’m now able to inspire and empower others, especially black women, and girls, who may be interested in pursuing careers in STEM and construction. Furthermore, this will lead to increased visibility, networking opportunities, and the ability to influence positive change within the STEM and construction industry. It will open more doors to new collaborations, partnerships, and professional growth.
I am humbled, that being recognised globally and nationally as a Women in Engineering/STEM/Web3/Business and Constructions is a deeply rewarding experience, both personally and professionally. It highlights the impact and influence of the work I’m doing in traditionally male-dominated fields and I have seen many black women and girls encouraged to strive for excellence and break down barriers.
What’s the best advice you have for young people looking to go into this field of study?
My advice for young people looking to go into this field of study is to be fearless and embrace growth opportunities. The tech industry offers so much potential for innovation and impact, and black women and girls have a crucial role in shaping its future. Sign up for the #BeMedigitalinclusion mentoring program at your school, this will give you access to industry leaders who will guide you on how to secure jobs in these sectors. Technology is constantly changing, so staying up to date with the latest trends and developments is essential. Take advantage of online courses, workshops, and resources to enhance your technical expertise.
Additionally, actively participate in our London Python Nights monthly meetups, attend our Tech conferences on 11th October 2023, and network to expand your knowledge and connect with like-minded individuals. Enrol in our #BeMedigitalinclusion mentoring and support network. Surround yourself with people who believe in your potential and can provide guidance and advice. Follow me; I’m a successful Black woman in Tech. I’m writing my book, and you will see my insights and experiences, which will be invaluable in navigating your career challenges and making Informed decisions. Embracing a growth mindset and being open to taking risks is King!
Don’t be deterred by setbacks or failures; instead, view them as opportunities for learning and growth. I recognise the importance of diversity and inclusion in Tech, and I promote equity, where I seek opportunities to uplift and support other women in the field through mentorship, networking, or advocating for inclusive policies and practices.
STEM and construction is, arguably, a male-dominated space. What challenges have you faced as a woman and how have you overcome them?
This is my story, I am a single parent black woman, with a degree, Master’s, MBA and professional qualifications and it has taken 28 years to be recognised for my work. I am writing my book and I share my personal journey of how I overcame it, but it was hard. One thing I can say, is this, showing up is key. I did this every single day and I just believe and push through.
The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship effectively states women would prove beneficial to the space but only occupy just under a third (29.4%) of the roles in the STEM workforce. Do you see us heading in the right way towards equality in the sector?
To answer this question effectively – I would use Michelle’s Obama Quote: We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.
What are your plans for the future?
Build collaboratively with other women leading in this space, and partner with more organisations in STEM and construction. From the #BeMedigitalinclusion program promoting race and gender diversity, I know that it is crucial for creating more equitable opportunities and harnessing the full potential of talent. My plans are a collective impact aimed at increasing the representation of black women and girls in these industries. I will continue to encourage young age, black girls and young women to pursue STEM and construction.
With my growing networks, I provide accessible and engaging educational programs, workshops, and #BeMedigitalinclusion mentorship opportunities that will help spark interest and confidence in black girls’ abilities. I will share my recent award as an Inspirational Businesswoman in STEM and Construction, at the same time highlighting the other successful women in this space too, who will be able to inspire others to follow in their footsteps. I will promote and celebrate the achievements of female professionals in these industries, I believe it can provide visible role models and counter gender stereotypes.
I will continue to disrupt and challenge societal stereotypes and biases by encouraging black girls and young women to pursue any career they are passionate about. Regardless of gender norms, this approach will break down barriers and promote a more inclusive environment. Through our #BeMedigitalinclusion community, I will establish support networks, mentorship programs, and affinity groups specifically tailored for black girls’ women in STEM and construction, and provide guidance, resources, and a sense of community. Right now, our #BeMedigtialinclusion mentorship programs are helping black young girls and women navigate challenges, build networks, and access opportunities for career advancement.
The collaboration between schools, colleges, and businesses within STEM and the construction sector will help to bridge the gap and create a pathway for women. We are providing internships, scholarships, apprenticeships, and career development programs, this is having a ripple impact because it is enhancing opportunities for black women entering these fields.
I think that tackling bias and discrimination within STEM and construction is crucial, but we really need to look at this through an intersectional lens to address the problem effectively. It is important for schools, employers, and organisations to adopt policies that promote gender equality, diversity, and inclusion. This includes addressing hair discrimination policies, and pay gaps, promoting equal opportunities for advancement, and implementing inclusive hiring practices.
We need to create an inclusive work environment that values diversity and provides support for work-life balance is so important. Now, I’m speaking from my personal experiences as a single-parent mother. Flexible work arrangements, family-friendly policies, and initiatives that address the unique challenges faced by black women in these industries can attract and retain talented female professionals.
These are just a few strategies from my personal life journey, I believe that ongoing efforts, advocacy, and policy changes, can help to break down barriers, increase representation, and create more inclusive and diverse STEM and construction industries.
What makes a great business leader?
In my professional experience, I have been fortunate to see some great examples of business leaders. For me, they possess a combination of qualities and skills that enable them to effectively guide and inspire their team, navigate challenges, and drive success.
These are some key attributes that make a great business leader:
- Having a clear vision for the future and the ability to develop a strategic roadmap to achieve organisational goals. I have done this with Academy Achievers, I can anticipate trends, identify opportunities, and make well-informed decisions that align with our overall vision.
- Every day I articulate my vision for bridging the STEM gap, where I’m able to inspire others, clearly convey my expectations and feed using effective communication. I also believe that active listening skills are important to understanding the needs and perspectives of team members and stakeholders. This is what I have done especially when using young people as our co-designers when planning the #BeMedigitalinclusion program.
- Emotional intelligence is something that has been at the top of my agenda for a very long time, being aware of my own emotions and those of others has really helped me to navigate certain situations. I have been able to empathise, understand different perspectives, and build strong relationships. Emotional intelligence allows me to lead with empathy, inspire trust, and create a positive and collaborative work environment.
- Leading with integrity and ethical behaviour is fundamental. Great leaders demonstrate honesty, transparency, and a commitment to ethical decision-making. Setting a positive example is something that I do intentionally every single day for my team where I’m able to build trust and credibility with stakeholders too.
- It is clear that business environments are constantly changing, and great leaders are adaptable and resilient in the face of challenges. I have learned to embrace change, learn from failures, and navigate uncertainty with confidence. My ability to stay calm, problem-solve, and maintain focus in turbulent times is crucial. Just understanding the importance of delegation and empowering my team, I have recognised the strengths and talents of my team members and now I have delegated responsibilities accordingly. I am able to provide guidance and support from a distance while allowing autonomy and fostering a sense of ownership.
- I am always learning; I have a thirst for knowledge and a commitment to personal and professional growth. I’m always seeking opportunities to learn, staying updated on industry trends, and encouraging a culture of continuous learning within Academy Achievers.
- I know that I have different leadership styles, and these vary according to different situations. With the attributes provided above, I believe are a foundation for effective leadership in the business world.
- A great leader inspires and motivates their team. They lead by example, exhibit a positive attitude, and celebrate successes. They inspire others to reach their full potential, foster creativity and innovation, and create a shared sense of purpose.