Powerful advice for women graduates in STEM careers

As a female consultant, being underestimated can work in your favour, says Laura Poultney, relationship sales support manager at BSG.

Johannesburg, 12 Feb 2018
Read time 5min 00sec
Laura Poultney, BSG's Relationship Sales Support Manager.
Laura Poultney, BSG's Relationship Sales Support Manager.

Careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) are the driving force behind innovation and the technological transformation the 'Information Age' promises. In South Africa, only 13% of graduates in those fields are women, despite South Africa being ranked 19th out of 144 countries in the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report.

Laura Poultney, BSG's Relationship Sales Support Manager, has, over her 15 years with the organisation, blazed a path for women in STEM, building her career and mentoring others to do the same.

Poultney received a BCom (Hons) in Information Systems and Management from Rhodes University in 2001. In 2002, she began her career at BSG as a Business Consultant. Within a year, she was collaborating on multimillion-rand projects, and within two years, she was promoted to a more senior Business Consultant role. In 2006, looking for a new challenge, she took on the role of Business Development Executive, and after the birth of her daughter in 2015, she transitioned to the role of Relationship Sales Support Manager.

"During my time at BSG, I've worked with strong female consultants and mentors who put in the work to build credibility through their exceptional ability to deliver. It's been an honour and inspiration to work with these tenacious role models. I also had the benefit of working alongside and being mentored by our then CEO, Greg Reis, who has always been passionate about nurturing young talent."

Poultney has, in her own right, imparted value through mentoring at BSG and guest lectures at various universities. Her advice for female graduates looking to start a career in STEM:

1. Be happy to learn

As an Honour's student entering the working world, you are tempted to think you are at the top of your game. This is a blocker for growth. Be open to learning and adapting. You have a great foundation, now build on it.

2. Be humble

Be prepared to take the notes in meetings, listen to mentors and do the work others don't want to do. This allows you to take in information and later provides the foundation for you to connect the dots and challenge assumptions.

3. Take something positive out of every opportunity

If you are assigned to a challenging project and sometimes need to put in the extra hours, see it for the opportunity it is. If you have to deal with a particularly difficult stakeholder, learn from the experience. Challenges like these build your resilience and prepare you to deal with similar situations better in future.

4. Work a little bit harder

Poultney credits her success to a simple motto: "Work a little bit harder than everyone else." As a female consultant, being underestimated can work in your favour. You have the opportunity to delight clients by delivering beyond their expectations. Don't be afraid to go the extra mile and prove yourself.

5. Take people along with you on the journey

The most successful consultant is the one who is part of a well-functioning team. Success is a team sport, so invest in your colleagues and team. Coach, support and uplift them.

6. Picture yourself in the position you want

Aspiring to be a team lead? Start role modelling the qualities of a great team lead, no matter what your current position is. Work hard to delight the client. Coach and provide direction to those around you and your promotion will come sooner than expected.

7. Don't be afraid to ask for it

As women, we generally have a preference for putting the needs of others before our own. Poultney says her role models have not been afraid to ask for what they want. Deserve a promotion? Own it, earn it and ask for it. Remember that you aren't always going to get it and know how to deal with setbacks.

8. Have those courageous conversations

Are you unhappy, because you are being overlooked or have an innovative idea you're afraid to share? People are just people. Be brave and have those difficult conversations. It will pay off.

9. It's okay to let your feelings out

As women, nearly all of us have experienced the negative stereotyping of emotions in the workplace. From Poultney's experience, she encourages women in STEM to understand their feelings and recognise that it is okay to express them. "Expressing your feelings helps your mentor and manager understand your needs and frustrations, equipping them to support your journey better." She also recommends, as Stephen Covey advocates: "Spend your time in your 'circle of influence', look for what you can positively change first, before expecting it of others."

10. You don't have to give something up

Women often feel that they need to compromise if they want both a family and a career. Poultney's experience at BSG has taught her the opposite. "BSG gives their people the flexibility they need to continue to add value without compromising their quality of life or their families." It isn't always easy, but with the right attitude, more companies are open to accommodating a healthy work-life balance. Determine what you want and articulate that effectively. There is a fit out there for everyone.

After 15 years at BSG, Poultney currently lives in the Eastern Cape with her husband and young daughter. Enjoying a healthy work-life balance and, with access to enabling technology, continuing to add considerable value at BSG.

Source: The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 and 2017


BSG is a proud African consulting and technology company with a 20-year history of using common sense to simply get the job done. For two decades, we have worked primarily in the financial services industry, creating flow between business and IT leaders to solve their most important problems.

Since our founding in 1997 we have purposefully and proactively evolved our solutioning to carry on delivering and have diversified our offering to include business and technology strategy execution, analysis and design, software development, data science and delivery management.

We are known for getting the job done, with you, working collaboratively with our clients and creating business value by thinking differently. We help our clients give their customers the experience they need.

We are passionate about being a proactive force for positive change. We proudly support LEAP Science and Maths Schools, represent industry on the faculty advisory boards of several leading universities and support skills development through our Graduate Development Programme. We also make a difference by inspiring others to lead healthy, active lifestyles.

The BSG difference lies in our people, in their commitment to creating a culture of excellence, innovation and growth. We create career significance for our people in an open, empathetic and collaborative environment where continuous learning and autonomous leadership are encouraged.

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