5 Lessons From Our Women Of Color STEM Awardees
By Karina Lloyd, Content Specialist
The Women of Color STEM Conference awards exemplary and innovative women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics roles were announced for 2021. This year, 19 women across the Rock Family of Companies were selected based on the tremendous impact they’ve had in their roles.
In this article, these women discuss their career paths, their challenges and share some lessons they’ve learned along the way.
The Women of Color STEM Conference selects their awardees based on their lifetime of achievements. Throughout their careers, these women each built a unique set of experiences and tackled challenges that have helped shape their perspectives and the way they approach their work today. Read through some of these lessons below.
Lesson 1: Work Toward Your Personal Best, Not Your Teammate’s
From Shreeja Rucker, Senior Quality Engineer, Technology All-Star awardee
In 1997, Senior Quality Engineer Shreeja Rucker received her master’s degree in computer science and moved to the U.S. to begin her career.
Rucker’s career has taken her through a variety of roles, including engineer, business analyst, quality engineer and team leader. Each role has taught her how to best engage with teammates across the technology sector while building a collaborative mindset and strong work ethic. Receiving this award has served as both a reminder and motivator for Rucker.
“You want to know you have a legacy, that you have left something behind,” she said. “These awards really motivate me to go further ahead and inspire me to continue doing what I’m doing. Usually, I focus on my weaknesses. This helps me remember I do have strengths and I have made an impact.”
It can be easy to get caught up in comparison, Rucker said, so she makes a great effort to focus on being the best version of herself.
“The only person that I compare myself to is myself,” said Rucker, sharing advice she often gives her daughter: “It’s not fair to compare yourself against other people, because you do not know what their circumstances are. If I feel that I am getting better, and I’m learning from my feedback, I will be happy knowing that I am growing in my role.”
Lesson 2: Push Back Against Barriers And Make Your Own Mark
From Lucy Shan, Senior Data Engineer, Technology Rising Star awardee
After moving from China to the U.S. in 1987, Senior Data Engineer Lucy Shan began pursuing her master’s degree in computer science at Wayne State University. She took on a series of jobs within the technology industry before finding her position with Rocket Mortgage in 2006.
Finding her place within the Rock Family of Companies was instrumental for Shan because it showed her the type of work and environment that helps her thrive.
When Shan received the Technology Rising Star award, she was reminded of her mother’s own experiences with sexism and her lifelong fight for women’s rights. Shan took these experiences with her as she made career decisions and paved her own path to establish herself as an independent, strong, educated woman.
Women should push back against the constraints that society often places on them and find a sense of self-empowerment, Shan said.
“This is the time that women must be strong, and multiculturalism should be valued,” she said.
A major point of pride that this award provided for Shan was hearing her own daughter talk about the work she has done.
“It made me say to myself, ‘Oh, she is proud of me and looks up to me.’ I think I set a good example for her,” said Shan.
Lesson 3: Seize Every Opportunity In Pursuit Of Your Passion
From Ponya Bishop, Senior Product Owner, Technology Rising Star awardee
A programming class at Detroit’s Beaubien Middle School first sparked Ponya Bishop’s love of technology. From there, her passion and knack for computer science continued to develop.
Throughout her childhood, Bishop grew her technical skills by developing code and by getting involved in programs such as Lawrence Technological University’s summer program. However, her confidence in her career path wavered when an older male peer told her that a technical career path might not be right for her.
“Never let anyone tell you what you cannot do or limit you in any way,” she said. “I let someone talk me into believing that I would not enjoy or be qualified to pursue technology.”
After starting her career in marketing and journalism, Bishop quickly realized that it wasn’t the field for her. Her search for a better fit led her back to technology, and eventually to work with Rocket Mortgage in her current role as a Senior Product Owner. This year, she won the Technology Rising Star award.
“When I got to technology, I finally felt like I found something that I was passionate about and that excited me every day,” said Bishop. “Don’t get swayed by negative comments that other people might make to you. It’s never too late to learn. It’s never too late to go down a different path regardless of age. If you have a passion about something, go for it.”
Bishop is passionate about ensuring girls and young women of color can see themselves in the STEM field.
“STEM is not always advocated for in the community and culture — and it should be,” Bishop said. “Girls, but particularly women of color, are not always pushed in those directions. Careers in STEM should be glamorized, and kids should know it’s cool to be in these areas and pursuing these paths.”
Lesson 4: Be Proud Of The Unique Perspective You Bring To The Table
From Farah Fadel, Engineering Team Leader, Top Women in Finance awardee
Winning the “Top Women in Finance” award reminded Engineering Team Leader Farah Fadel of the adversity she has overcome as a young woman of color in the technology sector.
“I am younger in my career, and being a woman trying to enter a male-dominated world comes with its own criticism,” said Fadel. “Getting that award verified to me that no matter the circumstances you come from, at the end of the day, you’ve got to stick to who you are.”
Fadel has learned to stand up for herself in the face of discrimination throughout her career and has demonstrated the power of the unique perspective she has to offer.
Fadel works hard to challenge bias while supporting other women who are new to the industry and might face similar situations she experienced early in her career. She encourages team members to embrace their differences and to be proud of how their unique perspectives help shape who they are.
“It’s important that you bring up these conversations about bias or unfair treatments because you can bring forward visibility for people,” said Fadel. “It’s okay to acknowledge that people are different. What matters is how you’re reacting, how you’re accepting others.”
Lesson 5: Vulnerability Builds Strength
Tamika Webb, Engineering Team Leader, Technology All-Star awardee
Starting out in the mailroom at another financial institution, Engineering Team Leader Tamika Webb has seen her career path as a “long and winding road” that allowed her to “build from the ground up.”
In her previous roles, Webb quickly became the point-of-contact as technical issues arose. Her inclination toward technology helped her build this skill set, and eventually to a role at Rocket Mortgage where she started as a Business Analyst and then moved into leadership.
The biggest challenge Webb has faced in her career is learning how to be vulnerable.
“Technology is a boys’ world, and I’m a black woman on top of it,” she said. “Although I have not felt bias here at the company, I will say those factors allow self-doubt to creep in a little bit.”
Webb recalls a difficult moment early in her role as Team Leader while she was driving a project to address a critical technology incident. Though the task was challenging, she was hesitant to ask for help,
“I had to almost drown, because I wasn’t leveraging those around me,” she said.
However, after being transparent with her leaders, she found an amazing support system and was able to upgrade the application.
“Everybody was jumping in to help,” she said. “I’m very happy to say that was my biggest pain and it’s also my biggest reward.”
Receiving the Technology All-Star award reminded Webb that every roadblock and accomplishment has been a steppingstone that led her to where she is today. It was an honor to be recognized by the Women of Color STEM Conference, she said, and she feels proud to be living up to the example set by her fellow women in technology.
What advice would Webb have given her younger self and other young women entering STEM careers?
“Be confident and keep a curious mindset,” she says. “If you make a choice, stand by it. It might not be the best choice but own it and be able to explain why you owned it — and then learn from it.”
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