“Confidence and the Lack of Mentorship” Two Biggest Challenges for Women in STEM: Candid Views from Elif Tutuk, Qlik

March 10, 20222:39 pm3079 views

To celebrate #IWD2022, HR in Asia is publishing a series of articles discussing women’s achievements and challenges in the workplace. Catching up on a candid discussion with Elif Tutuk, Vice President of Innovation and Design at Qlik, we at HR in Asia seek to understand the current state of women’s leadership in the STEM industry and what can businesses do to #breakthebias. Explore more here…

  • Question: Ms Elif, what was your experience like in the early years as a woman in the STEM industry?

Answer: Since I was about five or six years old, I knew I wanted to be someone who would create things. When I wrote my first programme, I felt this overwhelming sense of satisfaction as I was among the few women in the classroom who managed to do so. To be honest, I was never afraid of joining the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) industry because of my gender. I knew being curious, driven, and open-minded, especially to new challenges, would make me successful. So, I kept learning and working hard to expand my knowledge and skills – fortunately, without facing many barriers.

  • Question: There is clearly a lack of women in management positions in the STEM fields. What do you feel is the reason behind that?

Answer: Women have made strides in STEM, especially in the United States of America, where I am based. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women made up 27 percent of STEM workers in 2019, compared with just eight percent in 1970. Despite significant progression, men still account for most professionals in the industry worldwide. In fact, according to the United Nations, only one in five professionals in cutting-edge fields such as artificial intelligence is a woman. We still face many challenges that can make it intimidating when considering a job after college. Two of the biggest challenges are confidence and the lack of mentorship.

  • Question: What are some examples of gender biases that are prominent in the industry today?

Answer: I think it is encouraging that we’re more transparent about gender bias in the workplace today; it’s a critical step toward eradicating it. But an unintended consequence of this new level of openness and discussion may be that some young women are entering the workforce with fear and trepidation – instead of enthusiasm and optimism.

To help dispel the spectrum of gender bias, all of us have an opportunity to tell positive stories loudly and frequently. For example, we need to do more to showcase what women of character and strong work ethic are doing and reward them for their important work. It is also key for successful women to share how they meet female and male collaborators and supporters on their journey.

  • Question: How are gender biases impacting the accuracy of data analytics as well as AI and predictive technology?

Answer: Human biases are well-documented, from implicit association tests that demonstrate preferences we may not even be aware of, to field experiments that show how these biases can affect outcomes. Over the past few years, society has started to wrestle with just how much these human biases can make their way into artificial intelligence systems — with harmful results.

To successfully incorporate AI and machine learning into the business without bias, companies need to pay attention to what training data is used when building the models. The current state of machine intelligence is only as good as its training data. The training data you feed into the neural network must be comprehensive, balanced, replicating real-world scenarios like demographic composition, and not contain humans’ biased predispositions.

  • Question: Why is it important and what can companies do to encourage more women to join the STEM industry and support those that are already in it?

Beyond important moral, ethical, and justice arguments in favor of diversity in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and even medicine (STEMM), research suggests that the current lack of diversity in many STEMM fields could impact productivity and innovation. There’s a global shortage of STEMM professionals that we can’t address if we don’t expand the participation of underrepresented groups. Furthermore, there may be an opportunity cost due to a lack of broad representation, in which diverse teams may generate more through the development of more innovative solutions to the world’s greatest problems.

To tackle the key challenges that persist today — lack of confidence and mentorship for women in the STEM industry — companies should create safe platforms for women to hone their skills and knowledge and share their learnings and positive experiences. For example, Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has launched a great programme to help deal with these issues by developing workshops to help women build their skills and confidence while connecting them with their role models and mentors. That is an excellent first step for the STEM industry in Singapore, and I believe that the gender disparity will improve as more companies take on a similar approach.

  • Question: Finally, what is your advice to all women – those who aspire to join the STEM fields and those that are in it?

Answer: My advice for women wanting to enter the STEM field is not to be afraid to get uncomfortable. Oftentimes, you may find yourself with opportunities beyond your comfort zone, but the truth is that you can make the best out of it by taking the first step. It’s okay to feel uneasy when trying things you’ve never done before because you never know; it might turn out to be something that you actually like.



Elif Tutuk heads up the Innovation and Design team at Qlik R&D where she leads a team of scientists and engineers to innovate with data and augment human intelligence with the power of analytics. Her focus is on building on emerging technologies and new ideas to drive innovation at Qlik R&D.

Elif has 14 years of experience in Business Intelligence & Analytics and she has spent 9 of those years at Qlik in various roles; from product management and product design to development and research. Elif has 4 patents under her name including the latest one granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office for “Methods and Systems for Data Management” which provides a hybrid approach to big data analytics using both in-memory and direct query capabilities.

Connect with her on Linkedin.

Content rights: This exclusive interview content is produced by HR in ASIA. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in this interview is prohibited. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content.

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