February 11th marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, initiated by UNESCO and the United Nations in 2015 . Its primary aim is to highlight women’s access to and influence in science, as well as the importance of gender equality – a goal to be strived for daily worldwide.
We can rejoice in the fact that Lithuania leads Europe in terms of women working in the field of science and technology, with a whopping 64%, according to the 2022 EUROSTAT survey . In statistics, we also stand alongside countries leading in the number of women in high-tech markets !
EKSPLA is delighted to celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It is a great opportunity to give spotlight for the field of STEM and inspire others to choose technical disciplines, especially through the wonderful examples set by our colleagues. In total, 33 women work at EKSPLA, slightly more than a fifth of all employees. We aim for organic growth: career advancement opportunities are based on excellent work, leadership, not gender. The main criterion for recruitment has always been and will be close alignment with the company’s values, centered on curiosity, creativity, and professionalism.
Eglė Vėjalytė and Asta Rimkutė share stories of their careers. Both women point out the common stereotype that technical disciplines are too complicated; in their lives, they’ve even heard remarks like, “it’s not for women, especially not for you, blondie”. However, they both now are happy that the current physics community is truly friendly and supportive, pushing each other forward.
Eglė is an optics technologist – she oversees discrepancies and quality, prepares technological descriptions, collaborates with suppliers, assembles optics, coordinates the coding system, and contributes significantly to solving technical problems. Senior electronics assembler Asta oversees her team – she delegates and supervises tasks, prepares technological descriptions, and assists in assembling controllers, although she started her career in a completely different field – landscape design.
Why did you choose STEM? What were your studies? How did you get into the physicists’ community?
Eglė: I studied light technologies at the Physics Faculty of Vilnius University. Technical disciplines were much easier to me even during my school years. I wasn’t the top student, but I knew physics much better than other subjects (laughs). I also considered architecture, but physics seemed more promising and interesting. I’ve always been a curious child; the Energy and Technology Museum in Vilnius was my favorite of all. I remember in the eighth grade, while others were asking when we would go home, I would say, “But it’s so nice here, where do you want to go? It’s so interesting! Such amazing machines…” I was always interested in machines, systems, pipes – all sorts of large equipment gave me a sense of the greatness of humanity.
So, I searched for what could be done with that. I was inclined towards arts, but I knew it would be more of a hobby in my life. By that time, I already knew that Lithuania is a country of lasers: there are many companies here doing interesting things. This field already seemed promising to me then, and I liked it because of the synthesis of physics and technology. I enrolled as the first choice!
University wasn’t as easy as I imagined – the best students come here from all over Lithuania. Yet, we were all in a group, as one, sharing materials, preparing for exams together – it was a friendly environment. It was really a great place to be and to study; even in difficult moments, we supported each other – “Don’t worry, you’ll finish, we’re all in this together.” And the lecturers were motivating, there were only a few skeptics (laughs).
Asta: In Lithuania, you can’t always choose to study what you like – salaries are distributed very unevenly, so I carefully chose what I wanted to do.
Actually, there wasn’t a big career turning point in my life. I grew up with two older brothers; they were always building something, and we played games according to their ideas. It started with bicycles, their repair, and since no one else would fix mine, I had to do it myself. I don’t think there are such distinct and gender-bound jobs… At least that’s how it was in my family: my brothers would plant flowers, fix cars, everyone cooked together. Everything was done together, so I don’t even understand why tasks should be divided.
Once my brother gifted me his old BMW; it was so cool! But its chassis was broken. I had to fix it myself. I also found someone who could weld it. And even if was no for long – it didn’t matter, it was still mine, brought back to life with my own hands!
Overall, our family really enjoyed the outdoors, the greenery. That’s why I liked plants, flowers – I thought studying landscape design would be a great career path. Unfortunately, people who would hire me always had enormous demands and a lot of money, but no respect towards young people. Times have changed now, everyone is friendlier, supportive, but then – they treated you unpleasantly. It really wasn’t the feeling of community and cooperation I wanted – I think work can’t go on without it. I decided to turn to electronics, which I loved more.
Then I found a job – I went to fix AOI programs. Then I realized I wanted to learn soldering – others can do it, so why couldn’t I? I stayed after work with my repair team lead – she would teach me to solder for a month. I passed the IPC standard certification. It’s a special, electronics-oriented course. It needs to be updated every two years. I approach work simply professionally and always try to improve myself. I also encourage my team to help each other, to share knowledge – only them we can reach our potential.
I was lucky with the people around me – I was surrounded by support, no envy or resentment. Enthusiastic, positive people, willing to pass on their knowledge to others! Once I even went flower planting with the same supervisor who taught me how to solder, because we became friends!
What are you most proud of in your career? What brings you the most joy?
Eglė: Very abstract things. What I enjoy the most is that this community is very warm, the people here are incredibly nice. Since everyone is excited of this this field, they can and want to share knowledge, help, and encourage others. They’re all passionate about what they do, and they don’t hold back. I’m proud to work in this field. I can say the same about my previous workplace and about EKSPLA as well. Even other companies in Lithuania collaborate. Working in this field allows you to meet many people from different companies. When you attend an event, you see many familiar faces, everyone greets each other – this is Lithuania, the country of laser specialists!
Asta: I’ve been working with electronics for 12 years now. There are many memorable, beautiful events, details that bring joy. The most beautiful moments for me are when you solve a task together with the team, when something breaks down, and by solving it, you see how much you can achieve together. That’s what sticks with me the most. I enjoy finding solutions, for example, when a mechanism breaks down and you find the cause, even if it’s not your area. I didn’t even understand it myself before, but my colleagues kept noticing my aptitude for problem solving, and only then I realized that, yes, I truly enjoy it and makes me happy (smiles).
It seems like there are only great things in the photonics and physics community! However, what challenges do you face in your profession? Or maybe there really aren’t any?
Eglė: There are! One of the main challenges is constantly updating and expanding your knowledge. Sometimes someone tells you something, and you just don’t understand it properly. But, on the other hand, that’s the fun part – you’re not afraid to ask, and most importantly, you have someone to ask!
Asta: To be honest, I don’t really encounter many challenges. Mainly, I just want more knowledge, to understand even more about my field. However, life is not just work. I’m learning to find balance. Right now, I want to help the team as much as possible, delegate tasks, so I’m very interested in management. And there is just not enough time for everything! Even with careful planning.
Asta, you speak warmly about the team. Could you tell us more about your view on a good leader and his/her approach to team management?
Asta: In my view, the leader is not above the team – it’s a bad approach overall, an outdated thinking. I believe, the team leader should listen more, be more willing to compromise, search for solutions, reconsider, accept other opinions. None of us has the right answer – we’re all human. I doubt leaders who think they’re above everything, at the top of hierarchy (laughs). Jobs are just positions, not a hierarchy; everyone has their tasks and responsibilities. Some have more than others, some don’t choose that path, and that’s normal.
What do you think could be done to encourage more people choose STEM studies?
Eglė: The perception of physics as something obscure and difficult should be changed. Sometimes someone asks me, “Why are you doing this? It’s so difficult. Why do you punish yourself? For what?” Many people react like this. Imagine, you’re sixteen, you say, “Mom, I want to be an astronaut, an engineer…” but the first word your hear is not “how nice, how great,” but “it’s so difficult!”. That’s what gets stuck in your head from childhood, that STEM fields are difficult, and you won’t succeed.
But, in fact, it’s not that hard if you put your efforts into studies, if you are interested in it. Many of my peers, while pursuing their goals, tried to find balance between studies and life. I myself have convinced one girl to study light technology by sharing my experiences. Moreover, this field is universal, with many interesting applications, and employers are looking for you as a specialist – not the other way around. Once you break through, you can achieve quite a lot, not even necessarily in the field of lasers! For example, you can apply engineering sciences everywhere, as even our prime ministers have physics degrees – studies have given them a lot of logical thinking, knowledge of how the world works.
There are also people who try to deter you, decide for you that “this is not for you… You wouldn’t be able to do this.” And it kills a child’s interest and pursuit. But it’s just like with the language studies – it teaches communication, how a community bonds, just like physics and STEM teach understanding of the world.
Fear of the unknown, demotivation are powerful forces. But all you need is a little confidence, more curiosity!
Asta: I think children should be introduced to STEM already in kindergarten. I think it’s not even a societal problem, but a family problem – all those divisions into boys’ and girls’ tasks. A child is born without boundaries – we impose them ourselves in the family. There are so many fields that might interest in child, we just have to give them access to them. A child might be a good dancer, but let them try other activities, maybe they’ll discover something else! Maybe they’ll be great dancers and engineers? (smiles) I think children should be given more choice. If you don’t encounter, for example, electronics in life, or you haven’t tightened a screw, then you don’t understand this field, you’re afraid of it. And if your friends don’t do it either – even worse, you start doubting yourself. The earlier you give a child access to knowledge, the better.
Lastly, what advice would you give and what would you wish for those who want to take on a career like yours? Asta, how do you dare to change your profession?
Eglė: Curiosity! If the field is even slightly interesting to you, you need to ignite your curiosity and go further. You’ll be able to apply your knowledge in so many ways – don’t limit yourself with choices. I’ve worked in sales, dealing with components, which required my technical knowledge and expertise that I gained at university. But you can also manage, create, construct and design – you can do so much with it! You don’t even have to be a scientist – it’s all fine.
Asta: If there’s a strong desire, and deep down, we all know whether it’s real, don’t be afraid. Go and try what interests you – nothing bad or in vain will happen. You’ll just find out if your need to change your life was really worthwhile, maybe it will help you realize that you are on the right path. Don’t attach yourself to one field. Just do it – less talking, thinking or discussing about it for years, but just trying. That’s the biggest step, not for someone else, but for yourself, to know that you’ve done everything you could best. Because the most important thing is to be at peace with yourself. And it works in all walks of life.