Introducing – Zainab Manasawala

Tell us about yourself, and your journey into tech/STEM.

So I started getting into STEM and tech when I was actually back in high school in the United States. I picked the science subjects at high school level, and joined a lot of tech things, like the robotics club, and I started to see engineering as something I wanted to study. I really enjoyed being hands on, and getting my hands dirty, and trying out new things, and so when I decided to go to university I thought engineering would be a cool foundation for me to build upon. 

Fundamentally, I think the most important thing for me was to learn skills for approaching and solving problems. I then went down the mechanical engineer route at university, and I studied that for four years. I then went into a product development role at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare and worked in that for a year and a bit. I then decided I wanted to move into data science and analytics, and so I switched careers into data analytics and supply chain. That was more a pivot into tech, where I started to get more involved in understanding how to use and work data to provide insights. And that’s been my journey so far!

Why did you choose to go into tech/STEM?

I think it was curiosity – I wanted to learn how to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. As you can see in many industries, engineers are always in that space, and they’re always tackling some of the world’s toughest problems. This was really attractive to me, and I wanted to be part of that space.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in tech?

So there’s been some challenges, but good things have come out of these challenges as well. I think some of the challenges that I’ve faced, particularly as a woman in STEM and engineering, is that I think a lot of the time you feel that sense that you don’t know enough in a room full of others, or maybe you don’t feel like you belong as much because you look different. So I do get a lot of Imposter Syndrome, where I worry that I don’t belong here. So some of those challenges are quite prevalent, and I think for me personally it’s being able to build up my confidence, being able to assert myself, and know that it’s ok to make mistakes, even if I am wrong it’s ok. 

Tell us about a highlight from your career and why it is significant to you.

Just recently at work I started up a community for women in engineering within Fisher & Paykel. That’s been one of my biggest highlights so far because we’ve established a group where we meet monthly, and discuss a lot of the challenges we do face as women in a male dominated industry. So we’ve discussed personal and professional development topics, such as being resilient, how to find a mentor, how to set goals for the future, career goals and that sort of stuff. And recently I managed to set up a networking session where we had a find a mentor/mentee event. I gathered around 30 women from across the business, some who had signed up to be mentors and some who had signed up to be mentees. And we had a networking session where we got to know people across the business, and after that it’s up to the mentees to reach out if they found a mentor. It’s knowing that you have a community you can go to who have faced similar challenges and have a lot of experience that they can share back to you, especially if you’re new or early in your career. And we’re looking to expand this from here.

Tell us about a highlight from your career and why it is significant to you.

Just recently at work I started up a community for women in engineering within Fisher & Paykel. That’s been one of my biggest highlights so far because we’ve established a group where we meet monthly, and discuss a lot of the challenges we do face as women in a male dominated industry. So we’ve discussed personal and professional development topics, such as being resilient, how to find a mentor, how to set goals for the future, career goals and that sort of stuff. And recently I managed to set up a networking session where we had a find a mentor/mentee event. I gathered around 30 women from across the business, some who had signed up to be mentors and some who had signed up to be mentees. And we had a networking session where we got to know people across the business, and after that it’s up to the mentees to reach out if they found a mentor. It’s knowing that you have a community you can go to who have faced similar challenges and have a lot of experience that they can share back to you, especially if you’re new or early in your career. And we’re looking to expand this from here.

What are you working on now?

I’m working as a data analyst, and I’ve been involved in sustainability as one of the main facets of my work at the moment. Another facet has been forecasting infrastructure nets as a business, and some of these projects are quite different, but quite interesting. Particularly as we move towards a more sustainable future, planning how we report our carbon as a business, and what kind of data needs do we have in this sense. It’s been quite interesting, particularly as I don’t come from a computer science and software background, and so it has been a huge learning curve for me!

Why do you think we need more women in tech and/or STEM?

I was reading a book, called “The Moment of Lift”, by Melinda Gates, and she sums it up really well. Her book is about empowering women in general, and coming from a tech background herself, she said in her book something that I think it really interesting: “diversity is great, but we need it because that’s what brings equality, and if we don’t have equality we don’t have an equal society where everyone feels like they have the same rights and the same opportunities”. Having women and other underrepresented groups at the table is so important because everyone has a different perspective on life, and when you bring those people in together you have a different lens. If you have one homogenous group solving a problem, they’re only going to look at it one way – but the problem is affecting everyone. The only way to solve some of the world’s biggest problems is to get different perspectives from across the different groups, and you bring them together to solve a problem for everyone, not just one group of people.

Another thing she mentioned in her book which I didn’t know, is that when you look at the overall intelligence of a group, there’s been studies that show having women in a group actually increases the intelligence of the group. With even one women on the group, the group has been shown to have a higher I.Q., and cognitive abilities. So I definitely think it’s super important to bring all these people together and make sure their voices are heard to solve the problem for everyone.

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