Women at IBM

Charity Shares Her Passion for Getting Girls Into STEM

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(4??min read) The women of IBM are doing some amazing things to change the world, so let’s celebrate them! This March to celebrate women’s history month and #IWD2020, our incredible female IBMers are sharing their stories with you. Today, we’re catching up with Charity Wayua, Senior Research Manager at the IBM Research Lab in Kenya!

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Hi Charity! Tell us a bit about yourself!

I am a Senior Research Manager at IBM Research Africa located in Nairobi, Kenya. I’ve been at IBM Research for 6 and a half years. When I first started out, I was a research scientist, then progressed to a team lead, then a first-line manager and finally to my current role. I grew up here in Kenya, but went to the US for college and graduate school. It’s been wonderful coming back home and getting to work on relevant problems to the continent.

 

What inspires you?

The possibility of using science and technology to solve real-world problems and impact people’s lives. I love that I personally have the opportunity to do that for a living.

 

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you tackled them?

I joined IBM Research coming from a chemistry background. Previously, I was a cancer researcher. In the beginning, I was a bit overwhelmed by how much I needed to learn about technology. But I very quickly learned that at IBM, one of our strengths was the diversity of technical backgrounds that researchers had. I also realized that, even for people in tech, there are constantly new things to learn. IBM had a ton of resources and opportunities to learn, which has been really helpful.? I discovered how rewarding it is to learn and develop new areas of expertise.

 

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

It’s a celebration of the women who have come before us, who have been trailblazers in many fields. Recognizing these women is both an inspiration and a challenge for us all. We need to think about how we can address the remaining challenges so we can fully enjoy the benefits of having half of the world’s population operating at their fullest potential. As someone from a developing economy, it’s an important time to reflect on and amplify the conversation around women. We need to focus on their under-representation in leadership positions at all levels and why this must change.

 

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to affect change?

I think there has been progress in the STEM sector, but we are not where we should be. We all have to get together to encourage more people from diverse walks of life to be interested and to select STEM. This has to start at a young age. We know that today there are many perception barriers that keep young girls from pursuing STEM from an early age. Ensuring that young women see images and role models of women in STEM is a good starting place. We have to be intentional about increasing the pipeline of women and minorities in STEM. Once women join STEM fields, there have to be specific measures implemented to retain them or allow them to re-enter the workforce if they have to temporarily leave.

 

What advice can you give allies who want to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Supporting diversity and inclusion in the workplace is about how we encourage each person to bring their authentic self to the workplace. They should feel that their contributions are considered for their merit and not because of who they may be. This is the foundation for enabling an employee to do their best work.

For me, having managers who didn’t label or have specific expectations for me because I was young, or female, or black has allowed me to be myself. It’s not that they don’t acknowledge those aspects. But they are not the starting place of how to categorize me when I am making a contribution. It’s also the awareness that there are specific challenges I could face because of who I am and creating a safe space to address them, if and when they come up.

 

What has been your experience with inclusion in the workplace?

I have had the privilege of working in a very diverse office. It’s been amazing interacting with others, learning how to appreciate the differences and strengths we each bring to the table.

 

Why did you choose IBM?

I joined IBM Research because it was a place where I could utilize my skills. Also, I could develop my interest in science and innovation to solve important societal challenges. I continue to be inspired by our goal as a company to be essential. This has become a personal mantra for me.

 

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