In 1989, the Louis August Jonas Foundation opened its first season of Camp Rising Sun for young women. Since then, over 1600 alumnae have joined our global community. Women of Rising Sun have gone on to be leaders in their fields and agents of change in their local communities.
In honor of International Women’s Day, this week’s blog features two CRS alumnae who are making strides in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. Around the world, gender imbalances in STEM continue to exist. Only 35% of all students enrolled in a STEM-related field and 28% of researchers worldwide are women. We asked Baolu Shen (CRS ‘06) and Line Lundfald (‘89, ‘94) to tell us about their current work and share any challenges they continue to overcome as leaders in their respective STEM fields. Baolu and Line also shared some advice for young alumnae/i interested in pursuing careers in STEM. Here’s what they each had to say.
Baolu Shen (‘06) - Product Manager at LinkedIn, California, USA
I'm a Product Manager (PM) at LinkedIn, building LinkedIn Talent Solutions (LinkedIn's enterprise products for recruiters) for the China market. As a PM, I work closely with a talented team of software engineers, designers and data scientists to strategize, design and build software products/apps that help recruiters in China hire the best talents. It's a really fun job that combines both the analytical skills from the engineering degree I earned in college and my passion for design thinking and ethnographic research. It's also super rewarding when you see your users being impacted by the products that you built.
I remember when I was young, I was the only girl in my middle school's coding competition team. It was super lonely and no one talked to me because everyone thought it was a "guy thing." It was a little like a self-fulfilling prophecy and finally I quit because I lost confidence in myself. I was so glad to see the women in STEM movement gaining momentum in my first few years of college. It really encouraged me to pick up engineering again as my field of study and later led my journey to the Silicon Valley. In my experience, no one paid attention to people's gender, instead focusing on the process of learning and collaboration itself. However, the culture might not be as friendly in a lot of other places internationally. For example, I was really shocked when I conducted user research in China and heard recruiters talking about how they wanted only males, and would even filter by common male names when gender filter was not provided by LinkedIn.
My advice for girls interested in STEM: Be yourself, believe in yourself, and do what you love. STEM are really fun fields, but can be challenging sometimes. However, it is challenging for you because it is challenging, not because you are a girl. Just remember somewhere else some guys are facing the same challenges too. Don't be too self-conscious of your gender, which has nothing to do with your achievement, but instead, focus on the fun of building things and solving problems itself.
And to our friends and allies (classmates, teachers, parents etc.): I noticed in some cultures, people will say out of good will that girls shouldn't work too hard or get into hard fields like STEM, but rather, should just get an easy job. Don't plant this mentality in girls around you. You can never overestimate the power of self-fulfilling prophecy, and how much you might have discouraged a future leader in STEM. Let's be supportive and encouraging to girls in STEM. Let's focus on who they are and what they want to do, instead of over-emphasizing their gender. I believe the environment we create can really help girls achieve their dreams.
Line Lundfald (‘89, ‘94) - Project Coordinator for NanoLund, Lund University, Sweden
I have a bachelors and a masters degree in Biology from the University of Copenhagen and a PhD in Neuroscience from the Karolinska Institute and now work as a Project Coordinator for NanoLund at Lund University. NanoLund is Lund University's Center for Nanoscience (and Nanotechnology), and most of the employees are physicists, engineers and chemists. We have a strong base in semiconductor materials and quantum engineering and its applications and are among the very best of all research centres in Sweden. NanoLund is interdisciplinary and I'd say we cover all of the letters in STEM. We are also an international workplace with more than 30 different countries represented among our 300 participants (which is something I very much enjoy and where summers at CRS helped me in intercultural understanding).
I work mostly operational with management support, making sure that the decisions of the executive group are carried out, but I also collect information and provide input for the executive group and the board of directors to make informed decisions. I also work with communication and monitoring politics and policies affecting our research or funding possibilities. I love my job because it is challenging, has a high degree of freedom, and because new problems come up all the time so even if I have been here for 9 years I keep developing both professionally and personally. I also highly appreciate the team spirit and collaboration with colleagues.
While working at the Karolinska I saw the glass ceiling put an end to the career of women and I think it contributed to my decision to not continue as a researcher. However, at the time I couldn't phrase it, it is more of an insight I got in retrospect. I think in many places there are written policies about equal opportunities that do not make it much further than the paper they're written on - to make a real change one needs to go further than words and start working with attitudes and highlighting structural patterns as a step on the road to actual change. I am proud to be working in a place where equal opportunities (not just in terms of gender) are something which are worked with actively in so many ways and on so many levels. Although we are a male dominated workplace (as my female boss phrased it when I started: "there is rarely a line to the women’s bathroom") I can easily name a large number of feminists on the senior level. I think we are missing out on talent if we do not work with this, and I think that a lot of discrimination is unconscious and structural, and that working actively with these questions is an eye-opener to many. I also think that there is a good possibility that things will improve for those workplaces which actively work towards equal opportunities, and I believe that it gives us edge over other research centres.
Line is happy to speak with any young alumnae/i who have questions about careers in STEM fields. If you are interested in getting connected with Baolu or Line, please send us an email at email@example.com.
Are you a high school student interested in pursuing a career in STEM? Agata Foryciarz ('11) is part of a team at Princeton offering a summer camp for rising juniors interested in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improving medicine. Apply at http://ai4all.princeton.edu/.
Interested in hearing more stories from CRS alumnae? Be on the lookout for our interview with Naomi Gleit, Vice President of Social Good at Facebook, in the upcoming 2018 issue of the Sundial magazine. Submit your own update for the Sundial no later than March 27, 2018.