Women in STEM: Ruth Fernandez, MAPC

Meet our panel moderator: Ruth Fernandez. Ruth is a Managing Consultant for IBM Global, and has worked in both journalism and technology implementation. Her passion for diversity and gender equality makes her the perfect moderator our Women in STEM panel discussion. We can't wait to hear what what questions she has for our panelists and how she continues to forge ahead!   

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What made you want to participate in this panel discussion?

I have always been interested in gender equality issues. The topic of women in STEM was the subject of my Communications Master’s degree research project. I examined how technology companies today are trying to attract girls, and women, to STEM education and careers respectively, and what implicit biases can be found in the language and images used in their ads. Research on the lack of women in STEM consistently highlights the need for women to SEE the women working in STEM and to identify potential mentors. This panel, where the audience can interact with female STEM professionals is, therefore, invaluable.

What are some things you do outside of work to help you develop personally and professionally?

I have a variety of interests outside work including photography, viewing movies and watching my favourite TV sitcoms, and the space program (I follow the Mars Rover @MarsCuriosity on Twitter!). I am also a voracious reader gobbling up every type of fiction from romance to science fiction.

I am energized by interacting with others, so I love spending time with friends and family including being a referee during some raucous game nights!

As a management consultant at IBM, I help clients adopt new technologies, and I use a variety of tools to keep my skills current; namely, following thought leaders, reading up on new technology or latest innovations, and asking subject matter experts a lot questions. I try to lead by example -  willing to work in new ways, with new tools that we are advocating.

What has been the biggest learning curve in your career?

Be forever changing. I cannot think of one occupation that is untouched by innovation of some kind. To succeed I had to accept change and ambiguity in my work. Going from the typewriter to the computer to the tablet or smart-phone has meant giving up the feeling of comfort with the way things are. I remember when I had to get up to change the station dial on the TV.. tomorrow something new will be launched and we’ll need to adjust. 

I started my career in journalism at a time when newspapers started their decline, and reporting jobs were dwindling. To make a living writing, I needed to quickly broaden my horizons to write for a variety of industries and objectives – research, marketing, healthcare and technical writing. For the last 20 years I’ve worked in technology implementations helping clients cope with changing technology and ways of doing things. I still see my job as informing and educating people, but about technology and processes rather than the nightly news.       

When you think about your journey thus far, what would you say was the one trait that helped you get you to where you are today?

Adaptability. I quickly learned that I needed to be adaptable and not box myself in as one thing or another. It’s not something we are taught when we choose our area of study, or think about when we decide what we want to be when we grow up. The world is changing rapidly, and one must be open to the possibilities. Being open to how I could apply my skills and constantly learning new things has been the key to my career success.

I left university in my 20s thinking I might break a Watergate-like story, but now I work on digital transformation projects and explain cognitive computing!

What advice would you give to other women working in STEM?

Some colleagues recently asked me how I got such plum assignments.  My answer: I applied for them, then worked hard to learn while in the role and live up to my commitments. Raising your hand to take on a new challenge is the first step. Do not put limits on your skills or your ability to learn.  It took me a long time to take bigger risks (ok sometimes they are calculated risks!). As one of my rock heroes, David Coverdale, of Deep Purple, said, “Be safe, be happy, and don’t let anyone make you afraid.”

Who do you look up to, and why?

I’ll start with the obvious: my parents for immigrating to Canada more than half a century ago. Their sacrifices including leaving behind everything they knew so their kids were born and raised in such a wonderful country where we can be whatever we want to be. Beyond that, a colleague once told me that you should have at least five mentors. So, there are teachers, colleagues and loved ones who I go to for their various expertise or traits. And these days I often crowd-source advice from them all! Finally, I look up to Jennifer Yetman who became my Little Sister through Big Brothers and Big Sisters 20 years ago. She is now an incredible woman, a family counselor and educator. I’ve witnessed her struggles and admire her positive attitude and love of life.

Ruth Fernandez, MAPC, is a Change Management leader and scholar known for her ability to inspire and motivate multigenerational, ethnically diverse, and geographically dispersed teams. She completed a Bachelors of Arts in Journalism at Ryerson University, and her Masters Degree in Professional Communications at Royal Roads University. Her research project examined how technology firms leverage advertising to attract teen girls to STEM careers. Her study uncovered the counterproductive patriarchal discourses hidden in the ads and its potential damaging consequences. As an IBM consultant, Ruth focuses on creating and implementing strategies to enable and empower employees to adopt new behaviours and new technologies. Dedicated to the mentoring of girls, Ruth is an active member of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization in Montreal where she serves as a local chapter board member and was responsible for the chapter’s first social media engagement strategy. In her free time, Ruth Fernandez enjoys travelling, spending time with family, attending hockey games, and being a role model for her nieces.