Supporting Women in STEM

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a woman working in STEM at IBM? Antonia Dodeva, a technical leader based in IBM Bulgaria, tells us all about her important career and personal achievements and advice, and shares her view on why it is so important to have women in technical roles, and how key stakeholders can play a role to encourage young women to take a chance in building a successful career in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

 With Antonia Dodeva


What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I joined IBM in 2007 during the launch of its Global Process Services operations in Sofia, Bulgaria. My first assignment as an IBMer was to help with the transition of a client service project from Ireland to Bulgaria. Back then, this was my first interaction with multicultural environments and diverse teams. I had to adapt fast, learn on the go and respond to the needs of the business. As part of the requirements, I had to work at the client’s Shared Services facility in Dublin for three months. My main responsibilities included identifying the various business requirements as well as capturing and transferring the knowledge.

The project was complex and it involved dedication, precision and excellence. I liked it because it was dynamic and gave me the opportunity to work with people from different cultural backgrounds with diverse skills and talents.

This IBM project challenged me to be my best so I not only took it, but proactively volunteered to be the leader of the newly established team in Sofia. I considered it a great opportunity to share expertise and become a role model for other aspiring IBMers around me. I was involved in the onboarding, training, and overall supervision of the work. This role taught me that although each customer is unique, they all expect quality care. This kind of personal care and attention can only be provided with expertise, dedication and team work—values that each IBMer strives for when working for the success of every client.

What milestones have you already reached or you are currently moving towards?
During my 10+ years in IBM, I have acquired extended and valuable professional experience in many areas like Service Delivery, Operations Management, Client Relationship Management, People Management, Project Management, and Transition Management. Currently, I hold the position of Multi-Vendor Services Delivery Leader in IBM’s Technical Support Services division at IBM’s Client Innovation Centers in Sofia.

Before joining IBM, I spent six years in the supply chain industry in Portugal, working for different international companies.

Being a Bulgarian national with experience living in Western Europe and the ability to speak fluent Portuguese and English helped me to effectively collaborate within IBM and its client organizations across geographies.

What skills and learnings have you gained that would be valuable for our readers to know?
“Sharing expertise” is one of the IBM values I cherish the most. Now that I have reached a senior level within the company I’m participating in mentorship programs, where by being a mentor I can share experience and inspire others. I believe what motivates me most is the ability to influence not just my career but also the development and success of other colleagues and teams.

Very important is to remain visible and vocal about where you want to go next. One way to do this is by regularly building your personal brand and expanding your network of contacts.  What often happens is that opportunities find you, you won’t need to search for them.

Today more than ever, companies need to maximize their human capital by providing the right skills, at the right time, for the right people. The key advantage of IBM is that it gives you multiple opportunities to learn, to gain and practice new skills, to develop your experience in new directions within the company. There are equal opportunities for everyone and one only needs to know where to look, decide on a career path, take chances and embrace challenges with dedication.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My parents are my biggest inspiration. They are both engineers and have always been very supportive of my career aspirations in the field of mathematics and engineering. They gave me confidence that I alone can shape my success. My mother is a real role model for me being a successful engineer in a predominantly male dominated profession back then.

Other reasons that made me pursue a STEM career have been the new challenges in the field and the constant desire to learn and explore new parts of the business. My economics background and the support of my IBM team were key in helping me grow in the business and achieve my goals.

We know how it’s like to be a woman working in IT, widely considered as a male-dominated industry. But in IBM, it’s not what you would think. Firstly, our CEO is a woman – a very successful one – Ginni Rometty. When I consider my own experience, I think, “I am a woman and I want to grow my IT career, IBM is the right place for me.” We have special Gender Diversity programs, going on to support women’s career advancement and skills advancement; there is even a strong parental leave program to allow fathers to take care of working mothers who are coming back from maternity; And we have two major programs to empower women in IBM – like technical skills programs, mentorship, etc.

It is no wonder that IBM was honoured with the prestigious 2018 Catalyst Award for leadership in building a workplace that values diversity and inclusion. IBM is the only tech company honoured this year — and the only company anywhere recognized for a fourth time.

 How can schools, professional organizations and companies work together to empower women pursuing a STEM career?
Women have made tremendous progress in education and the workplace during the past 50 years. Even in historically male fields such as business, law, and medicine, women have made impressive gains. In scientific areas, however, women’s educational gains should be more encouraged, as should their progress in the workplace.

The employees of IBM represent a talented and diverse workforce. Achieving the full potential of this diversity is a business priority that is fundamental to our competitive success. A key element in our workforce diversity programs is IBM’s long-standing commitment to equal opportunity.

I agree that empowering women to pursue a career in STEM is possible only through collaboration between the business and the society. There are many things that can be done to raise awareness around the advantages of a career in STEM.  According to experts, some suggestions can be:

  • To support the development of young girls’ confidence in their ability to learn math and science by inspiring interest in these fields. Families, schools, communities and the business should unite to create an environment of encouragement that would disrupt the stereotypes about women’s capacity in these demanding fields. To succeed, we need to ensure that women and girls have full access to educational and employment opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics
  • A simple and effective thing would be storytelling around STEM – most people have a very limited understanding of what engineers do. Engineers not only solve problems with math and science but they are also very creative and collaborative. They design systems that make people healthier and safer and preserve the environment and make the world a better place. Engineers design everything – absolutely everything – in our built environment and thus they are much more than a single story.
  • Having female role models and career mentors who are successful in STEM will boost women’s confidence and will inspire them to look past their fears of entering a male-dominated field with hopes of making their own mark. At a time when technology continues to rapidly transform the way we live, we can and should work to empower more young women to take an active role in that transformation.

How do you enjoy “recharging” yourself after a long day and what makes you smile?
To be able to achieve work life balance is a necessary skill in today’s fast paced life. I work hard every day to remain the professional that I am by gaining new skills and enriching my experience. To refresh and escape the office routine, I love to travel and experience different cultures, people and traditions. This change in landscape broadens my perspective of life and provides me with a whole new dimension to explore. Such experiences teach me to be open minded and see the value of diversity in people and talents.

The thing that makes me smile every day, no matter what, is my one-year old son. He is the centre of my universe and my biggest inspiration to be the best in everything I do!

Antonia Dodeva is the MVS Delivery Leader for IBM GTS in Sofia, Bulgaria.

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