Let’s do the twist!
Kim Anstett shares 5 STEM career planning strategies to help you prepare for transformative career moments.
There are arcs and plans and systems and strategies when it comes to career planning in STEM for women. Twists and turns and moments will alter your trajectory. You will be taken to you places you weren’t sure you could go.
In the Spring of 2020, Kim Anstett became one of the 1 in 5 women to land the role of chief technical officer. Her STEM career path to that coveted role wasn’t a straight line. She wended her way from telecommunications to information management. Then to data and consumer research. Finally, onto to the work she does today at Iron Mountain as their Executive VP and CTO.
In this TARATALK with Gotara founder and CEO D. Sangeeta, Kim helps women learn how to identify—and take advantage of—those seemingly random encounters and conversations that end up being transformative career moments in STEM.
MEETING THE MOMENTS: 5 STEM Career Planning Strategies
1. Have a plan, but also plan to be flexible.
“I am an advocate for being diligent, being reflective, giving yourself that gift of time, of putting it on paper,” says Kim. “But don’t be held to this as the exact path, because then you’re just disappointed … things change.” The key: Don’t get stuck thinking there is only one path.
2. Be patient—to a point.
You may not land your dream job when you want. Be patient, but that doesn’t mean you should wait it out on the sidelines while others move ahead. “Don’t sit back and not enjoy what you’re doing because the best work we do is the work we love. And it’s out there.” It may not be happening for you now, but talk to people, find support groups and mentors who can help you.
“It’s so awesome just to talk out loud and to get off your chest what you’re feeling, even if you don’t know the exact advice you need at the moment,” says Kim. “Just having the conversation and speaking out loud gives yourself time to reflect and realize that you need to be in a better place. And often those sponsors and mentors will help you find that new opportunity.”
3. Be open. Career role boundaries in STEM are changing, even disappearing.
Keep that in mind as you embark on your career in STEM. “People tell me they don’t know if they want to go into technology,” says Kim. “I ask them, ‘What’s your passion? What are you excited about?’ I can relate almost everything they say to some form of technology, and that should be an open door that people run through.”
4. Keep listening to and telling stories—especially your own.
“I would say that to open the doors for more women to come through [into the STEM world and to become CTOs], we have to keep telling stories,” Kim says. “We have to be an example so that people can see what they can be.”
5. Be your own best advocate.
“My number one advice is: Negotiate,” says Kim. Yes, maybe we aren’t all that comfortable promoting ourselves. “We can advocate for someone else but ourselves? It’s like, ‘Am I worthy? Am I?’ ” She admits there’s no magic bullet. “We just keep reminding ourselves we should negotiate… It’s not bragging or our ego. It’s self-representation and that’s something your employer, your manager, and your team will appreciate because that means you’re going to do that for others, too.”
To know more about Career Planning Strategies for women in STEM, join Gotara and receive advice from top STEM+ leaders.
WOMEN IN STEM: KIM’s STORY
Kim didn’t grow up thinking about whether she’d be an engineer; she just had to decide what kind she would be. Her father, sister, brother and aunt were engineers. There was no question that was her destiny as well.
She settled on civil engineering—at least at first—because that’s what her dad and sister had chosen, rather than electrical, which was the route her brother took.
But in addition to her family, there’s another reason Kim was drawn to the STEM world. It dates back to when she was in Grade 4, and a friend’s father who worked at IBM introduced her to coding.
“I thought it was cool! But didn’t make the connection to engineering. Later, when I found my path into the technology space, I realized that these early connections made a difference even if you don’t know it at the time.”
Now let’s be civil, or not…
Kim quickly learned that civil engineering might not be the perfect fit. A first-year exercise at university dissuaded her of that notion. Students were given paper clips, index cards and tape and asked to build a bridge model across two chairs that could support the weight of textbooks.
“I went to the front of the room, and I put my bridge across the two chairs,” she recalls. “It literally sunk; there was no book that was going to come into this picture. I was just hoping the wind didn’t blow it over,” she adds with a laugh. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I can’t be a civil engineer. I don’t want people to get hurt!’”
Girls don’t do that? Watch me.
That was the moment she started asking others for their advice. “Someone who I knew well, and had trusted, said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t go into electrical engineering because girls don’t do that.’ I said, ‘I’m going into electrical engineering because no one’s going to tell me I can’t do that.’”
It was yet another powerful reminder that it can take only one experience, or someone’s passing comment, to influence or change one’s direction.
Data, Unix, UI and databases? Yes!
Kim studied microprocessor chips at school. She was quickly disheartened when she graduated and was looking for work. During one interview at a plant she noticed that she was the only female on the floor.
Kim said she couldn’t imagine how she would fit in, so she took another detour and started working for a company specializing in data services. She soon was swept up learning Unix and shell scripting, user interface design and managing databases. She loved it. She had found her groove.
The path to CTO
Flash forward 20 years—after a successful career at Nielsen—Kim moved onto Iron Mountain to become their CIO and today is the CTO.
“I love being a CTO,” says Kim. “I feel like I was born to do this. I love that technology transforms the world. It makes our lives better at home and work, and it’s throughout everything we do. So, it just feels like a gift that I get to work in a space that’s so much fun. The other aspect of it, though, is I love to connect with people. I love to see how people’s lives are influenced or impacted or benefit from technology.”