STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) careers are a rapidly growing sector of the professional world, yet many positions go unfilled by qualified professional women. Sheryl Sleeva, an executive leader and STEM champion, is working to change that.
4word: What has your career path looked like up until today?
Sheryl: My career journey has spanned that of product innovator, intrapreneur, and business strategist and has been defined by a passionate pursuit of career opportunities of increasing responsibility where business and technology intersect. An undergraduate degree in computer science coupled with an MBA in strategy and marketing led to leadership roles in diversified financial services and management consulting, but it was in the electronic payments industry where I truly found my calling. As a senior product executive and fintech pioneer at MasterCard, I launched multiple new products, services, and emerging payment technologies and went on to lead several fast growing global businesses as a P&L owner and general manager. Building profitable new businesses and leveraging technology to provide innovative business solutions has been a central theme throughout my career and remains a focus in my current role as Chief Marketing Officer and Head of New Ventures for a Connecticut based industrial automation firm.
4word: What prompted you to pursue a STEM career path?
Sheryl: Candidly speaking, post-graduation employment prospects were a key factor in selecting computer science as my college major. At that time, the job market was very challenging, but technology roles were the notable exception. In addition, few women were pursuing technology careers, despite the fact that corporations were focused on hiring more women in that arena. My STEM degree helped open doors. Before long I found myself with an excellent job offer with a large financial services company and had the distinction of being their first management training program associate in their information technology division. Joining this company provided an excellent leadership foundation for me and my technology background opened further opportunities as my career progressed. It is interesting to note that similar job market dynamics exist today. Although the number of STEM jobs continues to increase, there are still too few women pursuing STEM careers, resulting in missed opportunities for many talented women.
4word: Were you encouraged along the way to choose a STEM career by teachers and mentors?
Sheryl: Throughout my career I was blessed to have some terrific mentors – women and men – who encouraged me to take risks, continue my education, pursue leadership roles, and stay true to myself. Mentoring relationships are a gift that must be both cultivated and treasured, especially for women in STEM careers.
4word: Why do you believe there is such a lack of female presence in STEM careers?
Sheryl: It is important to acknowledge that over the past 50 years, women have made tremendous strides both academically and professionally, especially in STEM fields. That said, research highlights a host of environmental and social factors that point to why women remain underrepresented in STEM professions. Some root causes include inadequate and/or discriminatory educational practices, lack of role models and mentors, and personal confidence issues. Inspiring more girls to pursue STEM academically and encouraging them to complete their studies so they can go on to pursue STEM careers is the key to overcoming the STEM gender gap.
4word: Tell us about your mission to inspire girls to pursue career in a STEM industry.
Sheryl: To me, the most rewarding aspect of leadership is having the opportunity to “pay it forward” by supporting the advancement of the next generation. My involvement with the Girl Scouts of Connecticut as a Board Member, STEM champion and Camp CEO Executive Leader has enabled me to just that. It has been a joy to support the development of innovative career exploration programming in the STEM arena. By way of example, Camp CEO is a signature event during the summer camping season that engages prominent women leaders and girls from across the state in a two and a half day leadership retreat. The centerpiece of the program is a special project experience where the girls partner up with the women mentors to explore the business, technical, creative and social responsibility aspects of real products offered by innovative technology companies.
My passion to promote STEM education extends to other organizations with which I have been involved. While at MasterCard I was an executive champion and volunteer in Girls4Tech, a signature STEM education program. As a member of the International Women’s Forum, I have had the privilege of spearheading the sponsorship of STEM programming for middle school girls across the state of Connecticut as chair of this organization’s development and outreach efforts. Most recently, I was invited to join the Advisory Board for a new organization called Twomentor LLC, a high impact consultancy focused on helping organizations create talent strategies for a diverse workforce and build mentoring cultures that elevate women in STEM careers.
4word: In serving as a mentor to women and girls, what are some of the top hurdles they’ve told you they face as they pursue their STEM career dreams?
Sheryl: Lack of confidence and/or proficiency in math and science along with the absence of role models and mentors top the list of hurdles. For others, the cost and time required to get a STEM education is also a barrier. There is also a general lack of awareness regarding the vast spectrum of career opportunities that exist in the STEM fields. Experts predict that as much as 80% of the jobs in the next decade will require a technical skill set. STEM opportunities are exploding and many of these roles do not require advanced degrees or extensive training. Industries not typically associated with STEM, like retail and hospitality, are undergoing vast technological transformations. Those skilled in the arts are seeing increasing opportunities to integrate with technology, resulting in a new focus on STEAM (A=Arts), particularly in digital media and entertainment. Sadly many are not aware of this.
4word: What are some ways we as parents and/or professionals can encourage the rising generation to pursue STEM careers, both boys AND girls?
Sheryl: Parents and teachers plays critical roles in motivating children to pursue STEM academically and professionally. It begins with encouraging early exploration with activities that promoted interest in STEM and the development of STEM skills during school hours as well as after school. Kids who are struggling with math and science must be given the extra support they need to persevere and gain confidence with these subjects. .Exposure to role models and mentors in STEM fields can also help to initially spark and later sustain interest in STEM.
STEM foster specific types of skills that are greatly valued in the marketplace including problem solving, critical thinking, quantitative analysis and thought leadership. These skills are in high demand and are highly transferable across different job functions and career paths. Therefore early STEM engagement can provide a lifetime of personal and professional opportunities for our young people – girls and boys – but they must be encouraged, supported and mentored.
Are you in a STEM career or were you exposed to the opportunity to enter one? Are your children being presented with the option to pursue either a STEM or STEAM career? With more advocates like Sheryl, our future workforce could see a huge upswing in professionals (male and female) entering these exciting and necessary careers!
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Sheryl Sleeva is an accomplished executive leader, intrapreneur and business strategist. As an avid product developer and fintech pioneer in the area of global payments, she has remained at the center of innovation throughout her career.
Currently Sheryl is consulting as Chief Marketing Officer and Head of New Ventures for a Connecticut based engineering and technology services client specializing in industrial automation. In her previous role, she was Senior Vice President of Loyalty Solutions at MasterCard where she successfully led the global expansion of the cardholder services business, achieving sustained double-digit revenue growth. During her 19-year tenure at MasterCard, Sheryl launched several profitable businesses and held executive leadership roles in core products and emerging payment technologies. She is also the co-inventor of two US patents.
Management consulting has been a key part of Sheryl’s professional repertoire as well. During her tenure at Cap Gemini, she was instrumental in helping major multinational corporations achieve impactful results in M&A, technology integration, corporate strategy and business transformation.
Championing the advancement of the next generation of leaders is a particular passion for Sheryl. She is a member of the Board of Directors for the Girls Scouts of Connecticut where she serves on the Executive Committee as First Vice President, the STEM Advisory Council and the Camp CEO leadership team. Sheryl is also on the Board of Directors for Twomentor LLC, a high impact consultancy focused on helping organizations create talent strategies for a diverse workforce and build mentoring cultures that elevate women in STEM careers. She is a member of the Women’s Forum of New York as well as the International Women’s Forum of CT (IWFCT) where she currently spearheads STEM programming for middle school girls as part of the IWFCT development and outreach efforts.
Sheryl earned her MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania in Marketing and Strategic Management and her BA in Computer Science from New York University.