Katherine Tersago – Moderator

Katherine Tersago On Closing the Diversity Gap in STEM

Katherine Tersago
Managing Director at Tersago

Katherine Tersago is a program and change consultant focusing on digital, operational and organizational improvements.

She started her career as an IT consultant working for several start-ups and IBM’s global services team, focusing on web and collaborative software.  She then joined Zurich Insurance Company where she established a knowledge management practice, headed Group Online Marketing through the design and execution of a global internet strategy and honed her change management skills running various global change initiatives.

An avid supporter of meritocracy, Katherine has been actively involved in addressing issues around women in leadership and valuing diversity since 2000.  She started a “women in leadership” mentoring program, chaired Zurich Insurance’ Women’s Network for two years and designed a change program to tackle increasing diversity in the leadership pipeline.

A Belgian American living in Switzerland, Katherine is fluent in English and Dutch, and speaks conversational German. Her book on professional resilience “The Right Response” is available through Amazon.  Find out more at www.tersago.com.

1. What do you do and what is your background in STEM?

I’m currently working as an independent consultant. I cover program and change consulting, and I focus mostly on digital, operational, organisational change and improvement efforts. My relationship with STEM really comes from the beginning of my career where I started out in IT. I started as a web application developer; I worked for several start-ups and IBM’s Global Services for several years, and then later moved onto the business side of IT and digital projects.

2. Why do you believe in supporting diverse STEM talent?

Firstly, if you want to get the right talent for a particular role, you have to look at the broadest pool. Gender, age, and skin colour are all artificial barriers to having the right talent pool. An organisation does better when it’s willing to look at a talent pool that’s limited by relevant criteria, not by irrelevant ones like gender.

Secondly, people should be able to go after their goals and their dreams. Again, it shouldn’t be limited by something that’s not relevant, for example: wanting to be a pop star but not being able to hold a tune. In that case, you’re not going to make it very far and that seems fair. But why would you not be allowed to progress in IT because of your gender? If everything else is right on track, why should that be something that prevents you? It seems so arbitrary that your gender would somehow limit you.

3. What is the biggest challenge in achieving STEM diversity?

There are two things that play a role in whether or not significant change takes place – the value that people place on the change, and their belief in whether or not it will happen. Certainly, I think there are a lot of people who see the value, so I’m not too worried about the value part of the equation. I think enough people want to see more diversity in STEM. I would be more concerned that the challenge lies around people’s belief in our collective ability to make the change. An individual might be able to do it, but they may have reservations about colleagues or the wider system. They might not think there is the political will, or that the system can handle it. And ultimately, if you don’t believe a change can happen, you don’t end up making the effort yourself. So I think one of the biggest challenges is getting a critical mass of people to believe that STEM diversity will happen.

4. What inclusive hiring strategies do you see as key for closing the STEM diversity gap?

I think hiring managers should clarify what hiring criteria need to be met before asking for CV’s. Think objectively – ask yourself ‘what is it that I really need’ or ‘what do I need to measure candidates against’.

They should also be aware of their own biases – who are you naturally going to like and who are you naturally going to wonder about? We all have biases so be aware of those and know them, so you can keep that in mind while you’re evaluating candidates.

From an organisational perspective, you need to hire the people you actually want to have in the company. If you want to have an environment that values diversity, you need to hire people who value diversity or who are open to discussion, reflection.  If you hire people who are arrogant, and cocky, it’s hard to see how you create an environment that values others and otherness.

5. What is your advice to diverse talent looking to join or progress within the STEM sector?

Just do it! Join. That’s my advice. And then once you’re in and you want to progress, there are two things that can help you.

The first is being clear on what a rewarding career means to you. Maybe it’s really important to you to have peer recognition? Maybe you want to be challenged in your thinking every day? Have that in mind so you know what you’re going after as you’re trying to progress. This will help you choose which battles are the battles worth putting your energy into, and which ones you should let slide.

Another is working on your own resilience and how you handle being in a tough environment. I think if you’re the sole female in an environment, it can easily be tough , not necessarily because people will be mean to you, but because you’re the sole individual, and you might not have the sense of belonging like everyone else does. And your path may not be as straightforward as theirs. Thinking about where your resilience lies, and where you get it from can help you.

Some senior women I knew in financial services drew strength from knowing that they were breaking down barriers in what is traditionally a male-dominated industry. Or it can just be that you feel you’re living in line with your values and that you’re acting with integrity, drawing strength from doing something that you feel is right. You might get your resilience from having a counterweight – your family life can counterbalance some of your career struggles, or a significant hobby. Having the strength to make progress is about figuring out what you can draw on to become more resilient, as well as knowing what it is you want from your career.


Phaidon International’s Inclusive Talent series brings together Hiring Managers and industry professionals to address industry pipeline challenges in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

If you are a woman working in STEM, or are a company looking to hire more female talent, join us at our next Inclusive Talent event in Zurich.

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