Stand out in STEM – Time to work on brand YOU

by Carlotta Zorzi.

I was recently talking with one of my coachees who is a young woman in tech from a minority group who told me that whilst she’s so happy to have the job she has, she also struggles with anxiety because she sticks out ‘like a sore thumb’. Being a woman in STEM, regardless of the field, can feel overwhelming especially when it comes to standing out in a way that doesn’t portray your true confident self. So how can you market yourself in an intentional way whilst capitalising on the qualities you want to be known for? For example…

If you want to be known as the most reliable product manager, how are you going to demonstrate accouny?

It might be interesting for you to know that generally speaking, there are three key elements to personal branding: Performance, Image and Exposure (P.I.E.). However, whilst performance is doubtlessly essential to establishing yourself in your field, oftentimes professionals forget the impact Image (what people think of you, aka your personal brand) can have on your growth and development, as well as the importance Exposure – which is essentially your ability to let others know about your skills, strengths and values. Essentially, letting others know what you want to be known for.

Therefore, regardless of which STEM field you find yourself in – whether you’re looking to break into Engineering or looking to grow in a field like Finance – try paying close attention to what your Strengths, Passions, Values and Style are. This is because the combination of them all will define you in the eyes of others.

So, how can you be intentional about your personal brand in the workplace and beyond?

Make sure you know your strengths – and talk about them in different contexts. This is step number one to self-awareness and it’s essential for you to start defining your personal brand. If you don’t know what your strengths are, a good place to start is asking people who know you (colleagues, friends, family) what they think – some answers might really surprise you! And remember, oftentimes our strengths are those qualities we take for granted because they’re things that just come natural to us.

Passions and Values: What lightens your heart and brightens your eyes when you talk about it? Identifying specific topics, industries and causes will help you establish yourself (and be known for) in a field that you truly care for, which is often in line with your values. So think – what do I enjoy that feels close to my heart&mind that I want to be associated with?

Style: What adjectives do you want people to use when referring to you and your work? There is no right or wrong answer, you choose your style by engaging in conversations and showing up in a certain way. If you’re intentional with your actions, you’ll be able to establish a consistent perception of yourself. However, remember that trying to be someone you’re not is not going to serve you well in the long term. So make sure you capitalise on your authentic self (because that’s what makes you, YOU). One simple tip is to consistently describe yourself with words you want to be known for so others start using the same terms when talking about you. This can be done in settings such as group meetings, 1:1s and social gatherings. Eventually, repetition and consistency will help people associate you with specific scenarios, strengths and opportunities you want to be remembered for.

So…where do you start?

Choose your projects: As you get started in a new role, there will be millions of projects you can get involved in. If possible, try being selective and intentional with what you say YES to. Is the project a high visibility project for what you want to be known for? Does this project give you the opportunity to get exposure to the right people? If successful, what credentials would this result give you? The more you align your work to where you want to go (and what you want to be known for), the more your personal brand narrative will become powerful and convincing. This goes hand-in-hand with your Performance slice of PIE.

Make your voice heard: Whether you define yourself as an introvert or an extrovert, you have a voice and people want to hear it. Be it through raising your hand during a company meeting, putting yourself forward as a speaker even if it feels intimidating, finding a way to share your accomplishments in a way that feels true to yourself. And why not – beyond your workplace, try finding a channel that works for you and experiment with it. In many cases, social channels can be an incredible asset to organically share your thoughts and build a community around what matters to you. So regardless of whether you feel like giving it a go with creating content relevant to what you care for/want to be known for, or whether you’d like to simply engage with other like-minded people’s ideas, social channels like Linkedin, Twitter and Reddit can be a great place to make your voice heard. You might have guessed it, but this goes hand-in-hand with the Image slice of PIE.

Networking for growth: Being in control of your brand is great and necessary, however it’s equally as important ensuring that you meet and learn from people who can teach you something new every day. Networking has a bad reputation because its perception is that it only happens when you need something from someone. That is absolutely wrong (and not at all what networking is about). If anything, one of my Silicon Valley mentors taught me that networking is first of all an opportunity for you to offer help to others without expecting anything back. Life has a funny way of giving back, so you never know what might come from a simple conversation with someone who is in your field (or in something completely different!). Be curious, ask questions, offer help and get close to individuals you have identified as role models so you can learn from them. Give yourself a chance to be exposed to inspiring people (both within and outside of your organisation) and why not – sign up for external events that allow you to meet more people in environments that interest you. And yes, you guess it – this goes hand-in-hand with the Exposure slice of the same PIE!

Sponsorship as a goal: On the same wavelength, Exposure is as important externally (to get your personal brand out there whilst learning more about your field and challenging your thinking) as it is internally within your organisation. Part of your personal brand will no doubt be influenced by the people you associate yourself with, so ensure you actively work on finding a sponsor who can help bring up your name in a room full of opportunities when you’re not there. Interestingly, if you have a strong personal brand your sponsor will also benefit from actively advocating for you and your growth. So make sure you identify someone who you both respect and is in a position to elevate you to the next level.

Ultimately, remember that your personal brand is not static. Over time, as you grow in your career and learn more about yourself, there will be elements you’ll want to change. That is completely normal and encouraged, because we’re all in constant evolution.

Whilst you might be feeling like you’re not standing out in the way you want at the moment, or are still figuring out what ‘brand you’ is – take some time to reflect on which actions you can take to actively work on it. What is important is being aware about it and, as much as possible, acting on it intentionally.


About the author

Carlotta is an International Partnerships Expert, Public Speaker and Tech Careers Coach who started her career between Edinburgh and Silicon Valley before joining the London corporate tech scene working for companies like Oracle and Shopify. Over the years, Carlotta worked with partners and clients across 40+ markets whilst managing internal teams across 4 continents, delivered on net new initiatives aimed at scaling the business and participated as a thought-leader on industry panels and webinars. In addition to her daily Partnerships role, Carlotta is also part of the Women@Shopify ERG Global Leadership team and a #IamRemarkable workshops facilitator which focuses on helping women and underrepresented groups learn about the importance of advocating for their achievements. Outside of Shopify, Carlotta is a Board Member for a couple of organisations, a mentor for women-focused networks like Bloom UK and a Tech Career Coach for School16 – a NYC-based startup that helps individuals from all over the globe get into tech no matter their background. Carlotta is also a Visiting Professors at Sussex University, a public speaker and a 2021 WATC TechWomen100 award winner. In 2022, Carlotta was also the winner of Lead5050’s Woman in Tech Award and was listed on HERoes 100 Role Models List sponsored by Yahoo Finance.