Leadership influence: a critical skill for women in STEM

The ability to influence others is an important leadership skill. Leadership influence is therefore critical for women in STEM to master if they want to have their voices heard and create impact in their STEM field.

When I first moved from science research into a science policy role, I did what any good scientist would do. I focused on analysing information and seeking new knowledge to answer the specific questions in front of me. However, I soon realised that if I wanted to have more influence and create greater impact with my STEM expertise, I needed to shift this approach. I needed to increase my visibility – in my organisation and beyond.

Being visible is about being seen, being known and being recognised for who you are, what you stand for and your expertise. For women in STEM professions, having visibility in their organisation or workplace contributes to job satisfaction and career progression.

Visibility results in greater confidence, the ability to share your knowledge, having others seek your expertise and therefore the ability to promote yourself. These in turn lead to you gaining greater leadership influence – more people want to hear your opinion and seek your advice, and as a result you have more opportunities to contribute and create impact. Visibility also helps navigate the barriers to leadership that can exist for women in STEM.

When we are visible, it also allows us to be role models for other STEM women.

Our visibility to other STEM women provides important examples of what female leaders can achieve. This is critical in negating the masculine leadership mold that can exist, and as a result will normalize female leadership in STEM and other male-dominated industries.

How visible are you in your organisation? And how does this reflect the contribution and impact you are able to achieve?

You achieve visibility by sharing your purpose, telling your story, and sharing your knowledge and expertise. Here are three strategies to help you do this effectively.


Leadership Influence and Visibility Strategy 1: Share Your Story

First, you need to understand yourself: your purpose, your values and your superpower.

  • Remind yourself of your values and beliefs, and clarify your purpose: what do you stand for? What do you contribute? What impact do you want to create? (This is your story)
  • What is your superpower – the strength that you are known for?
  • How will you share your story to let others get to know who you are, what you know, what you stand for? What will you say?
  • What are you already doing to share your story?
  • Who else can you share your story with?
  • How can you create opportunities to share your story?

Through strengthening your ability to share your story, and doing so broadly, you will become more visible and increase your leadership influence.


Strategy 2: Share Your Expertise 

Secondly, you can share your expertise as a strategy to increase your visibility, and in turn your leadership influence.

Using this strategy, visibility is achieved by participating in activities broadly, sharing your knowledge and expertise, communicating effectively, and demonstrating the value you offer.

Some ways in which you could share your expertise include:

  1. Talk broadly to others in your organisation or profession about your area of expertise – as a result opportunities to contribute will emerge.
  2. Collaborate with others.
  3. Join a committee or working group.
  4. Attend presentations and conferences.
  5. Look for organisation-wide projects or other opportunities to get involved.

Spotlight on Sharing Your Expertise

Be selective and strategic in how you share your expertise: this is achieved by focusing on the areas where you want or need to gain influence. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • In which specific areas do you want or need to extend your influence?
  • What specific expertise do you have to share that is relevant to these areas?
  • How can you create opportunities to share your expertise? For example, outside of your current role, project or team, where could your expertise contribute to your organisation’s mission and objectives in a way that is relevant?
  • How can you help others in your organisation with your passion, skills and experience in a way that is relevant to your influence goals?

Take time to reflect on how sharing your expertise could increase your visibility and influence as a leader.


Strategy 3: Model Others

A third, straightforward, strategy to increase your visibility is to learn from role models how they gain visibility.

Using this strategy, visibility is achieved by learning from others’ experiences and applying the strategies they have used to increase their visibility. Through learning from role models, you gain the benefit of experience, from someone who has already walked a path relevant to you.

The strategy is simple. Find someone you admire who is visible and learn from their experiences. You may find inspiration from your organisation, your networks, your broader industry. Additionally, you could follow the Superstars of STEM, or the Women’s Agenda ‘Women in STEM Gamechangers’. Some easy ways to access their experience include reading their stories, listening to podcasts or having one-on-one conversations. You could also attend networking events or commence a mentoring relationship with them.

Learning From Other Women in STEM as Role Models

To utilise the benefit of others’ experience to increase your own visibility, consider the following:

  • Who do you admire as a role model that is visible – either in your network, industry or another industry? It may be multiple people.
  • What do you admire about them and how they are visible?
  • What do you want to learn from them specifically?
  • How can you access their experience – directly or indirectly?

When you become more visible, you will increase your influence as an expert and leader.

Consider how greater visibility will assist your leadership impact. How will it assist your team or organisation achieve its goals?

What specific visibility would benefit you right now?

Who do you need to be more visible to? In what ways? How often?

What opportunities exist (or could you create) to achieve that visibility?

And once you have achieved that visibility, how will you create greater impact with your expertise? Consequently, how will you be a role model for other STEM women?

Learn more about how you can maximise your leadership influence in this article.


Dr Susan McGinty is an award-winning scientist and highly regarded leader and leadership coach, with 25 years’ experience in STEM, Defence and National Security. Inspired by the challenges of her own leadership journey, Susan is passionate about increasing gender diversity in STEM and security leadership. Through Aya Leadership, she works with STEM organisations to identify and deliver the development strategies that will build leadership gender equity within their organisations; and provides coaching and tailored professional leadership development training for women in STEM and security professions. Susan was identified by The Australian Business Journal as one of the 20 Australian leadership experts to watch in 2021.