Bring STEM Into Management – Leticia Oppong

We live in such beautiful times where one doesn’t have to be limited to a specific career field! Leticia is one of the many women out there who incorporate their multi-tasking nature into their careers. It doesn’t have to be STEM alone!

Hi Leticia, thank you for joining us today on this episode of Words That Count
It is nice hearing from another woman with a story close to what I went through in school. Thank you for devoting your time to getting answers for other people who might go through the same struggles. I am grateful that you reached out to me.

Please give us a brief introduction about yourself
My name is Leticia Oppong from Ghana. I am among the lucky people who got jobs immediately after school, with my degree in electrical/electronic engineering. My application to General Electric was successful for a one-year internship as my National Service. I was retained after that and had been working with them until August 2021. I’m presently focused on finishing my master’s degree in engineering and management.

It’s amazing how the world is evolving! We can now combine engineering with management and still be good at both fields!

Tell us about your STEM journey since childhood
I had some influence from my parents; my father is an electrical engineer. I learned how to play with his tools at a tender age. When it was time for me to choose subjects in secondary school, I went for sciences. As a bright student, teachers and parents pushed me towards such subjects. When it came to university, my dad was worried that I wouldn’t have any opportunities as a female electrical engineer. So he advised me to go for Pharmacy. Lucky enough, a lecturer at KNUST was willing to give my father a bigger picture of my possible future in engineering. We arranged for a meeting, and he explained how things were changing, especially for women.

After 4 years at university, I had an internship with Vodafone Ghana and while there, I applied for the opportunity at General Electric and was accepted. That’s how the journey has been for me.

It looks like engineering has been well embraced in Ghana. Most of our Ghanaian guests have been female engineers. That’s a wonderful thing to see.

You have talked about how hard it was to convince your dad about your passion; what other challenges have you faced along the way?
I was one of the first female engineers hired in our sub-region. There were mostly men on every site. Everyone was great, but it was hard in the beginning, being outnumbered and feeling like an object of curiosity. I had moments where I went to do my job, but everyone was looking at me like, “what are you doing here? Are you sure you can do this?”. I had to stay grounded and not get distracted by that.

Another challenge was working on a site without female facilities – toilets and washrooms – because the site wasn’t conditioned to accommodate female engineers. But we made do with what was available. There were also times I was treated differently on customer sites because of my gender. You go to meet a customer and you can sense from the initial interaction that they’re not sure you can get the job done. You always have to start by overcoming that prejudice and proving yourself. Everything you do is monitored; you don’t have the same allowances as your male colleagues. And sometimes, it gets frustrating when you do the same work they do, but don’t receive the same acknowledgment.

I’ve always considered these to be “occupational hazards”, part of the job. It’s “understandable” in a field where you’re in the minority. It’s not right, but it’s the reality.

How have you been able to keep your head high in such trying situations?
No matter the difficulties I face on-site with customers, technical issues, or working late into the night, it gives me satisfaction to know that I am part of a team solving problems for people. That always keeps me going. I love the job.

What are some of your prestigious awards and moments of celebration that you can share with us?
Nothing prestigious yet, but I received ‘above and beyond awards’ from sites I worked at. Also, I received stellar feedback from a site outside my region where customers were initially worried about working with me because of my gender but were later pleased by my delivery. They ended up inviting me to their site two more times and I received a customer quality award plaque which was shipped to my home country

If you are not at work or school, what do you enjoy doing?
I am a writer; I enjoy writing and have a blog where I write short stories in different genres. Three years ago, I was able to publish a novel. 

What is your favourite quote?
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously permit other people to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others” ~ Marianne Williamson.

What’s your word of encouragement for a young girl who is passionate about STEM?
I have always believed that you have to go after what you want. Our traditions and customs force us to do what society expects from us. I want the young girl to know that there is a place and time for that. You have to shape what you want to be from your passion.

Being a woman in STEM is not easy, so if you are going to join the team, you need to be ready! And once you join, you need to know your stuff so that when you speak, people listen to you. What others say about you doesn’t matter, you need to stay focused and get the job done so that they stop questioning you. Once you prove yourself in this field, you will be in the position to help guide others. I’ve had the opportunity to guide others because they look at me and believe it’s possible. Be the next person to show your family or society that it’s possible to be a woman in STEM.

Thank you for sparing time to speak with me, Leticia. I am proud of how strong you are in this field. May your work continue speaking for itself.

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