Diversity and visibility within STEM

Through being more welcoming, the STEM sector could attract a huge and bright cohort of inquiring, creative and diverse minds, says Chantele Smith.

My name is Chantele Smith, I'm 28 years old and currently working as an ICT technical specialist at Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council. I started working at the council in 2009 as a systems officer, after graduating with a degree in Software Engineering from Durham University. At this time I was responsible for maintaining Benefits and Taxation applications and document management systems.

I have recently completed an MSc in enterprise systems at Sheffield Hallam University, and now work as a technical specialist at Barnsley. I am now responsible for developing and designing SAP Fiori applications, and promoting the use of SAP Fiori across the authority. I recently spoke at the SAP UK and Ireland User Group about my work, and how User Experience is about much more than design. There have also been articles in Computer Weekly and other publications about the projects I have worked on.

Aside from my IT skills I am also a Prince2 Practitioner and ITIL (Foundation) Certified. I will soon be Agile Certified and I have also been fortunate enough to take part in the Bluefin Solution Graduate Training scheme.

IT can be lonely

Diversity and visibility within STEM is extremely important to me, not only as a gay person but as a woman as well. Very early on in my IT life I realised it was potentially going to be a very lonely place for someone like me, as I was the only girl in my A-Level computing class for two years and one of only three girls in my year on my degree. However, I cannot tell you how many LGBT+ people there were as I didnt know! This made the prospect of coming out very difficult. In fact I didnt officially come out until I was 25, but by that point I think most people knew or figured it out anyway.

Since then I have been very open about my sexuality especially in the work place, and up to now everyone has been very supportive, which I guess means I've been very lucky, as I'm aware not everyone has that kind of response. However, I want to use 2017 to help and support more LGBT+ people in STEM.

The need to be welcoming

The STEM sector needs to show that it's place where anyone can work, and new people will be welcomed whoever they are. There has been lots media coverage recently about getting women in to the sector, and how we can inspire young minds.

We need to try and do the same with LGBT+ youth and get in to schools and show them that the support is here, and that there are people, like myself, who are willing to help and guide them to get them to where they want to be. We also need to carry that support into the work place, whether it's through LGBT+ groups, online forums or through other communication channels.

I got to where I am through sheer grit and determination, because I genuinely love what I do and couldn't imagine working in any other sector, but I do feel at times I need to talk to someone and I didn't know where to turn. I worry that we are missing out on valuable minds, because younger generations feel the same and decide to take a different route.

I guess my one piece of advice would be don't let anyone deter you from doing something you love, and if at the time it feels hard to talk to someone there are always people willing to listen.