If you’re a young woman interested in all things science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), it can be hard to navigate your way through these male-dominated fields. Do not despair, young researchers, there is hope. And it starts with you.

It’s easy to get swept away by the majority and to try to fit in, but the best thing any woman can do in any industry is just be herself.

Be different

As a woman, you might — and should — bring a different perspective to the equation, and that’s okay. Melinda Gates considers the day that Microsoft offered her a job to be one of the happiest of her life. However, working as a woman in a male-dominated field can be difficult, and Gates struggled at first to find her place while preserving her own happiness.

“When I first started my career at Microsoft [in the 1980s], I remember thinking that I had to be more like the men I worked with — more aggressive and less collaborative — if I wanted to succeed,” she says. “But the more I tried to fit in, the more miserable I felt.”

What did she do? She tried being herself and found that everything changed, and for the better. Not only was she happier, but she also felt more fulfilled in her career, she became a better manager and colleagues asked to be on her team.

Role models matter

Gates also gives this advice to those aspiring to join the world of research and technology.

“Find a mentor,” she says. “Research shows that when women studying STEM have a female mentor, they’re more likely to feel motivated and self-assured, complete their courses and find a job in their field after graduating.”

Having someone who’s been in your shoes, who understands your struggles and who can support you and guide you along the way is an invaluable part of getting more women in the field. “And then, one day, be that person for someone else,” she says.

Staying optimistic

When Gates talks to students today, she says it’s frustrating to hear women “describe some of the same barriers that [she] faced in the 80s.” However, there’s a silver living: People are finally talking about the gender gap and inclusivity — issues that were ignored when she was starting her career.

“Now they’re on the front page,” she says. “And as a result, we’re seeing organizations start to respond [by] publishing and tracking their diversity data, making decisions off of it and punishing bad behavior when it comes to light.”