EE Times profiled 25 women in tech. Our goal is to trigger discussions in the workplace, and around the dinner table about women in engineering - not as numbers, but as real people, as colleagues and bosses, mentors and proteges.
EE Times embarked on our “Women in Tech: Profiles in Persistence” project in early September. We conceived the idea for the special report after a lively debate erupted among our readers, our editors, and the tech community at large on the gender gap in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce.
Let us be clear: EE Times agrees with the simple fact that men and women are different. However, we reject the stereotype that biological and emotional gender differences explain — or justify — women’s underrepresentation in the engineering community.
To buttress this position, we picked 25 women in tech — ranging from CEOs to scientists and engineers — based on recommendations we received from our readers and nominations by editors at AspenCore, and asked them a common set of questions.
For these interviews, we didn’t pose the usual EE Times questions about inner-technology minutiae, design choices, competition, or growth strategies. Instead, we got personal. As you read these profiles, you will look into the faces and hear the voices of women who have played a crucial role advancing the global technology community through their contributions to research and discovery, design and development, entrepreneurship and management, and educating and mentoring the next generation.
We asked these tech heroines what motivated their professional decisions and choices, how they got to be where they are, and who and what have helped them achieve their goals. We wanted to make visible the invisible women in technology. Above all, we wanted to reveal the quiet persistence and personal effort — often against systemic resistance — that women are reluctant to talk about.
Their backgrounds vary widely, but common themes emerged in their answers. “Passion” for the work — so many of them used that word — hooked them initially. They were motivated to persevere — another word that came up frequently — in equal measure by families and mentors who always told them they could, and by superiors who sometimes told them they couldn’t. Failure wasn’t a reason to quit; it was a signal to step it up.
The dropoff that occurs after women enter the engineering workforce is a concerning reality: Though about 20 percent of all undergraduate engineering degrees are awarded to women, only 13 percent of the engineering workforce is female. But those are just statistics. By publishing these profiles, we hope to trigger discussions in the workplace, in the classroom, and around the dinner table about women in engineering — not as numbers, but as real people, as colleagues and bosses, mentors and protégés.
Why only women?
When we announced plans for this special report, some readers pointedly asked: Why single out women?
We all aspire to live and work in a gender-neutral world. But we chose to spotlight women in this report because our world today is not even remotely gender-neutral. We’ve observed a dangerous backlash brewing against the movement to recruit more women to tech. We are unsettled by claims that the push for gender parity has gone too far.
We cannot, in good conscience, close our eyes to the fact that women remain a small, lower-paid minority in the tech world. Perhaps more significant are the travails women face in a male-dominated industry. Anyone who believes that women aren’t interested in becoming engineers, that they are happy with lower pay, and that they’re not ready and eager to assume leadership roles in the tech world need only talk to these real women, none of whom settled for helpmate status.
As we asked more personal questions, we found the 25 women we interviewed to be courageous, insightful, and persistent.
Working ‘twice as hard’
They are, of course, exceptionally hardworking. They have to be.
As Karen Bartleson, 2017 IEEE president and CEO, said, “I had to work harder than my male counterparts to be viewed as on par with them. I had to prove myself through work that was of higher quality and done faster.”
From girlhood on, career women face a labyrinth of gender-based obstacles. The discrimination may be subtle, but it’s always there. It’s SOP, for example, for men to talk over women in a meeting room or fail to acknowledge the presence of a woman sitting one chair over at a conference.
Vanitha Kumar, vice president for software engineering at Qualcomm, calls these slights “hidden biases.” She pointed out that many boys and men are oblivious to the issues faced by female friends, siblings, classmates, and colleagues.
Alessandra Nardi, software engineering group director for Automotive Solutions at Cadence Design Systems, insists that “mentoring needs to happen for men and boys” as well as girls and women.
Teaching women successful strategies won’t cut it, she said, unless we also “work on men’s unconscious bias that women cannot be technically strong, are not good executives, or cannot be assertive without being mean.”
Out on a limb
Many of the women are aware that their biggest weakness might be modesty, a quality traditionally ingrained in girls. “Making yourself visible feels like bragging and something we are taught not to do,” IEEE’s Bartleson acknowledged.
Jen Lloyd, vice president of Healthcare and Consumer Systems at Analog Devices Inc., said she had to learn to battle her tendency “to not ‘talk myself up.’ ” Once she did, she discovered that “putting myself out on a limb was worthwhile, and that gave me a lot of confidence.”
The women we profiled did not accuse men of open hostility toward women. “It is not that men form a ‘coalition’ against women,” said Andreia Cathelin, Fellow at STMicroelectronics, but they tend not to factor women into their calculations “when considering who could do a given job or task.”
So what’s a girl to do?
When you decide to go for a certain position or assignment,“you really need to build up a clear, ‘no fault’ demonstration that you are the obvious choice — and then frequently remind everybody of that fact!”
During our internal planning sessions for this special project, one of our editors questioned the wisdom of asking women the work-life balance question. We ultimately decided to include it, but a few of our interview subjects reacted to it in a way that validated our editor’s concern
Marianne Germain, cofounder and CEO of IMEC spin-off EpiGaN (Hasselt, Belgium), said it best, telling us, “The day we stop asking women this question — or start asking it of both men and women — is the day we’ll achieve true equality of opportunity.”
We couldn’t agree more. Fairly or unfairly, however, society still expects women to shoulder responsibilities on the home front that are not expected of men. We can’t be blind to that reality, so we had to ask these high-achieving women how they cope with the pressures. Nearly to a woman, they cited the importance of strong support networks at home, including supportive spouses.
Who will champion women?
Most of the women we interviewed acknowledged the societal pressures that impinge on their careers and described their struggles to juggle work and family life. In addition to praising their supportive families, many stressed the value of the allies and mentors who have helped them to persevere personally and prevail professionally.
Françoise Chombar, CEO and cofounder of Melexis, put it this way: “Women are the most resourceful in solving the challenges thrown at them, as long as they have a partner, friend, or mentor who fully understands and supports them.”
The problem is that with so few women in tech, it can be difficult to find a mentor who has already walked the path you want to take.
Imagine what it was like for Harvard professor and former Federal Trade Commission CTO Latanya Sweeney, who was the first black woman to earn a PhD in computer science from MIT. “In a profession that requires mentoring,” she said, “I had virtually none.”
An Steegen, executive vice president for semiconductor technology and systems at IMEC, is one of the lucky ones.
Lisa Su, the current CEO and president of Advanced Micro Devices and one of our profiled women in technology, “has been an incredible coach to me,” Steegen said. “Dr. Su taught me that a true leader doesn’t wait until somebody tells him or her what to do but instead acts proactively, without being asked.”
The insights articulated by these 25 women aren’t exclusive to women. They stand as guiding lights to everyone in engineering, showing the path to a genuine, equal,— partnership.
At the core, what motivates male and female engineers alike is a passion for finding solutions to society’s intractable problems.
As Cecelia Smith, vice president and general manager at Texas Instruments, put it, “I thrive on the words, ‘It can’t be done.’ This drives me to solve the unsolvable.”
In the following pages, we share 25 women’s raw voices. The profiles appear in no particular order. But the Table of Contents can direct you to a specific woman in tech who could be your boss or colleague, or to a role model you barely know — but want to.
— Following Q&As were compiled by a global team of EE Times editors including Sally Ward-Foxton (Europe), Judith Cheng (Taiwan), Echo Zhao (China), Rick Merritt (U.S.) and Junko Yoshida (U.S.).
Table of Contents