The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “Why is a background in STEM important for shaping female leaders?” is written by Tracey Massey, president of Mars Chocolate North America. Not only am I asked all of the time about what it’s like to work for a chocolate company, but I’m often asked about how I worked my way to the top of the same company for the past 25 years.
One of the greatest factors that helped shape me into the leader I am today is my STEM degree. Having grown up with brothers and always active in sports, my initial draw to STEM came from my own desire to be treated like “one of the boys” and go toe-to-toe with equal credibility. While that competitiveness was an early motivator, I quickly understood that there is an infinite list of jobs that make the list of STEM occupations, including roles in chemistry, astronomy, engineering, technology, health care, and everything in between.
After receiving my Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering, I joined Mars Drinks as an industrial engineer at a production plant in the U.K. Working in science and engineering early on in my career helped me understand the intricate technological and production aspects of the business, enhanced my critical thinking skills, and provided a well-rounded foundation in coaching and leadership for when I moved into more strategic and management-focused roles.
Supporting women in STEM is an essential aspect of helping companies grow and innovate. Even though women represent just a fraction of the STEM workforce,women with engineering backgrounds represent some of the highest spots on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list. IBM’s IBM 0.97% CEO Ginni Rometty majored in computer science and electrical engineering, GM’s GM 2.17% CEO Mary Barra got her B.S. in electrical engineering, and PepsiCo’s PEP 0.59% CEO Indra Nooyi got her B.S. in physics, chemistry, and math. These glass-ceiling-shattering female leaders prove that training in seriously hard sciences leads to serious business innovation and success.