Women in STEM: engineer and project manager Staphesa Richards

June 1, 2017 by Caroline Dinnall

As a child, Staphesa Richards had always been a big fan of the TV series, Transformers, but it wasn’t until she saw engineers working on hydroelectric plants in Niagara Falls that she knew engineering was a profession in which she wanted to work.

In high school, her math teacher—who trained as an electrical engineer—told her that she wasn’t fit for engineering. Though one might think this discouraged her to shy away from her dream, Staphesa instead took this comment as a challenge she would gladly meet.

“If you don’t pursue (your dreams), you won’t figure out the best of yourself…”

So she decided to pursue a career in engineering.

During the fours years of her program in electrical engineering at Queen’s University, Staphesa discovered her gift of communication and project management. After graduating, she found a position at a small consulting firm that specialized in construction engineering. Here, she grew a particular interest in building and planning for projects. This prompted her to transfer her career focus, later becoming a project manager for a construction company.

Today, Staphesa is a project manager for Industrial Electrical Contractors. Her day-to-day responsibilities require ongoing communication between teams on projects, whether emailing clients, or holding meetings with her team, suppliers, and distributors, all to ensure the success of these complicated endeavours.

On women in STEM

As she began pursuing her STEM-related career, Staphesa was surprised by the scarce representation of women in her field.

At Queen’s “there were only five women out of a class of 40,” she said, “Since you are a female, you find as if it is thought you have to push that much harder and demonstrate or prove that you are knowledgeable in the field that you work in,” said Richards.

She encourages young women to stay the course, chasing after their goals and dreams relentlessly, even if it means they encounter obstacles along the way.

“I would never recommend, suggest, or tell women or anyone to limit themselves based on the idea that something is hard. In any and every field that you go into, there are obstacles that you’re going to have to face and challenges that you’ll have to overcome,” she said. “You can’t run away from the board meetings and the communication meetings, otherwise, you won’t learn how to deal with it.”

“I would never recommend, suggest, or tell women or anyone to limit themselves based on the idea that something is hard.”

~ Staphesa Richards

Harassment is one of many obstacles some women in STEM face.

As sensitive and intolerable as this topic is, Staphesa encourages women to avoid stagnancy, never allowing these tendencies to shy them away from their passions.

“Women are not islands.”

As a way of addressing the negative stigma around women in STEM, Staphesa says that women should make the effort to be more honest and open so that younger women can enter into the field more prepared.

Staphesa is doing her part through personal mentorship with young women. She also tutors math students.

“If you’re open and honest, maybe the girls who are deciding to go into these fields can make more well-informed decisions around it and create environments that aren’t unbearable for the next generation.”

Stay tuned for our next installation of Women in STEM with Camille Mitchell.