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Women in Engineering: Breaking Barriers and Shining a Light on Opportunity

 

While more women than ever are earning STEM degrees, it's still critical to raise awareness of the career opportunities available to women, particularly in engineering. Only 13% of engineers are women, and female engineers earn 10% less than male engineers. 

With today being International Women in Engineering Day, it is important to reflect on the barriers that have been broken by women in the field. No strangers to shattering glass ceilings, the women in the quotes below have given their thoughts on the trials that they have overcome and lend their advice to women and girls interested in the field of engineering. 

Celeste Rance, director of engineering, Pathwire

"This International Women in Engineering Day, I'd like to give one main piece of advice to girls and women looking to get into the engineering field - push outside your comfort zone. Don't be afraid to try something new. Women in a male-dominated industry tend to not take risks, and they are often shy about asking for help because they don't want to show weakness in front of their male counterparts. 

We, as a society, need to encourage more young women to try different things. We need to make sure that women, in general, know that those opportunities are there. I recommend women to start with an internship for any career to figure out what they really want and work their way up from there. With an internship, you will get the proper education you need, especially in the engineering field. We don't always see high numbers of female applications in our internship program, and I hope to turn that around.  Once in a company try different projects by volunteering for projects that push your skills.    I would also love to see more women apply to be and be accepted into leadership positions. 

Women getting into the field and expanding themselves and pushing the bounds of what they can do will only serve to benefit society as a whole. Bringing in women's ideas helps industries by bringing in more diversity of thought. The more diverse the talent pool, the more diverse the problem-solving process is."

Svenja de Vos, CTO, Leaseweb Global 

"I think a key reason for the low number of women in technology and engineering can be attributed to a lack of role models and mentors; there simply aren't enough. To change perceptions, more female role models are needed who, supported by practical initiatives like training, open days and internship opportunities, can help to create a good image for the tech industry as a sector that's fun and rewarding to work in. This is important if we consider engineering and technology's continued impact across all sectors - as our world becomes increasingly defined by tech, now is the time for the tech industry to create and elevate more female role models who can open the way for young girls to follow in their footsteps." 

Amitha Jain, quality engineering manager, Egnyte

"Engineering is an amazing career but unfortunately, not enough young women are encouraged to pursue it. Mathematics and science are the bedrocks of the field but early constructs and influences in the lives of young girls can reinforce gender stereotyping that pushes them away before they get a taste of the joy and rewards of such a path.

On top of that, the young women who do overcome those early obstacles often enter a workforce where women engineers face systemic bias. Discriminatory hiring, promotion, job assignments and salary are far too common, and we can't ignore that sexual harassment still occurs in many workplaces and professional environments. 

In many organizations women may also have to cope with the isolation of being one of a generally small number of female engineers - which can be especially difficult if employers don't have policies that enable female employees to balance family and career responsibilities.

International Women in Engineering Day is a reminder to celebrate the women and companies in our field that are working toward improving the collective experience of female engineers. However,  we need to better understand the obstacles that they face if we are to tackle this issue head on. We should encourage girls to pursue math and science classes and support their development.

Ultimately, companies will benefit by recruiting and retaining female employees. The organizations that invest in professional development and leadership training for women will be the most successful. As well as those that foster welcoming work environments that provide equal pay, flexibility, strong family and medical leave policies, inclusion and anti-bias training, mentorship, networking and strong anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. I've been fortunate in my career because of my drive and the support I've received along the way. I want to make sure others have the same opportunity."

Agnes Schliebitz-Ponthus, SVP product at Fluent Commerce

"International Women in Engineering Day invites us to acknowledge and celebrate the incredible work that female engineers deliver. It serves as an excellent opportunity to remind and encourage women and young girls to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Prevalent is the misconception that STEM subjects are harder for women, and with women making up just 12.3% of all engineers in the UK, more needs to be done.

Early in my career, I had the opportunity of taking a position at Amazon HQ in Seattle. While there, I was inspired by the substantial numbers of female software engineers from a variety of backgrounds in senior roles. These women worked extremely hard and motivated me to push myself more to perfect my programming and software engineering skills. And now at Fluent Commerce, I'm surrounded by an equally inspiring team working to the common goal of helping retailers adapt quickly to the rapidly changing world of ecommerce.

When women are supported by role models of their own gender, there is much to gain. I'm one of the lucky ones and I want to encourage more women to realise the possibilities within a STEM-focused career. Raising awareness and showcasing successful female role models within the industry is paramount if girls are to realise the possibilities of a future in STEM."

Susan Margro, senior director, solutions and systems engineering at Cubic Transportation Systems

"STEM stereotypes are perpetuated from a young age, and social media and pop culture offer limited role models for young girls who may want to pursue a career in the space. While we're seeing slight improvements thanks to films like Hidden Figures, the fact that I can only name one mainstream movie shows we still have a long way to go. 

Engineering has enabled me to work with a global team, examine wide-reaching transit and mobility challenges and create solutions to help improve customers' transit journeys around the world. I was lucky enough to build my career at an inclusive organization that has acknowledged gender disparity as an issue and has expressed its commitment to change this.

To help buck the stereotypes and start driving diversity in STEM, I recommend companies with established engineering programs partner with local schools and universities to foster women in engineering. Organizations should also diversify their hiring practices and ensure all employees are being promoted and rewarded based on skill and merit, not gender and ‘who they know.'

If I could give one piece of advice to girls and women interested in engineering, it would be don't hesitate because it is currently a male-dominated industry. Women bring diversity to engineering industries that can help solve problems faster and more effectively. Innovation comes from change, so be the change. Change starts with you."

Lalitha Ande, senior systems engineer, Cubic Transportation Systems

"This International Women in Engineering Day, we need to help women see that there's a career path here for them. 

Initiatives can come from anywhere and start as early in the process as recruiting by removing gender-specific words in the job description, as well as ambiguous words and descriptions like ‘may require traveling.' These references tend to put off women from applying. Companies today also need to engage with schools and universities to give insight into the engineering work being done. For instance, they can organize virtual tours to give female students an inside look at engineers' day to day. 

Even though this profession may be male dominated as we sit here today, there are numerous opportunities to develop personally and professionally for women of all creeds and color. There are many schemes available in companies to encourage and support women who are eager to advance their careers, but there is still work to be done. Being a woman in engineering focused on technology that makes a difference in people's lives is a constantly rewarding experience, whether it's telecommunication, medical, or transportation, and I hope we can do a better job at helping young girls see that."

Katie Busch-Sorensen, project engineering director, Cubic Transportation Systems

"As engineers working in the transit industry, every problem we solve and every product we build has a major impact on cities around the world. I enjoy seeing projects evolve from small group brainstorming sessions into fully-fledged, designed solutions that end up being used by transit agencies and millions of people around the world. Unlike teachers or doctors, our efforts improve the lives of people we'll never meet.

International Women in Engineering Day reminds us that showing girls how fun and rewarding engineering is can make a huge difference in the sector's diversity. We really need a societal shift in how we encourage and bring up girls from a young age. Let's give our girls all the tools early, and expose them to all that's possible.

The process starts with us. As female engineers, we need to be fearless. We must contribute to discussions, and we can't be afraid to ask questions when we don't know the answer. We should strive to be proactive and research everything we can first. And we can't forget that failure is a badge of honor and is an indicator that each one of us is learning valuable lessons in our careers."

Ronit Polak, vice president of engineering, Exabeam 

"Encouraging women to pursue the field of engineering begins when they are just entering school. From K-12, it is important that teachers are the first to challenge the stereotype that engineering is a ‘man's world.' Many young girls believe the misconception that engineers code all day, deterring them from showing any interest, and we need to disrupt that. Educating school-age children on the diverse landscape of engineering careers can help them understand where their passions may fit under the engineering umbrella. With early exposure, kids, particularly girls, are more likely to pursue the career when they reach college-level age and beyond. 

Organizations must also strive to create a supportive community for everyone, not just women. Every employee, regardless of gender identity, should be aiming to create an environment where individuals can express challenges and concerns and be listened to. We all come from different backgrounds and have been through personal journeys to get us where we are today. Higher level management should take the time to hear about an employee's career path to understand who they are and where they want to go. As a result, team leaders should also be providing opportunities for trying out different tasks and roles to find a person's ‘niche.' 

Different perspectives support better innovation -- the core of the engineering way of life. When individuals within an engineering team all look the same, act the same, and come from the same backgrounds, end users may not get the best solution. Encouraging women, starting at a young age, to pursue engineering provides varied perspectives to attract various customers. On this International Women in Engineering Day, I hope educators and organizations commit to paving the way for a more equal engineering environment."

Olivia Collier, software engineer, ThycoticCentrify

 "There is no shortage of advice I could give young girls and women to encourage them to consider the field of engineering. However, it all boils down to this: don't be intimidated by the lack of women in the classroom. When I was going through school, I had originally started out in nursing and then transferred to physical therapy. After completing observation hours, I realized the career was not for me and went back to the drawing board. I always had a knack for computers, and my husband encouraged me to try a course. After my first course in JavaScript and HTML, I was hooked. 

I'm from eastern Kentucky, where opportunities for women in engineering are few and far between. Had I been exposed to the industry at a younger age, I might have been further along in my career than I am today. Both educational institutions and organizations with engineering positions need to make a concerted effort to give women a chance and early knowledge of the field. Our voices deserve to be heard. 

Programming and other forms of engineering are like a giant puzzle that you get to solve. The field is an excellent confidence booster, and I encourage young women looking into a career in engineering to always ask questions. Accept challenges with an open mind. Embrace feedback - not just the positives, but also constructive criticism. Do not settle until you've found the niche in engineering that you shine in."

Annemie Vanoosterhout, release and project manager, Datadobi 

"Both women and men must challenge their work environments to make room for people of all genders, races, and backgrounds. As we emerge from the restrictions of the pandemic, organizations have the opportunity to turn remote work into an advantage. Adding flexible hours that allow working from home can benefit women in particular who are balancing job responsibilities and families, and open up more opportunities for them in engineering and tech. 

However, the responsibility is not on organizations alone. Women also must challenge themselves to move beyond what they think, or maybe what others think, they can do. In my career, I had one or two occasions when my supervisor didn't see me as a good fit for the next level up and I was passed over for another candidate. I used the opportunity to work with the new manager to excel where I could contribute the most. Not being accepted right away doesn't mean you can't push the boundaries and show people what you are capable of. You just sometimes have to accept that people aren't caught up with you yet. 

A recent article I read said that women try to take on too much of the  burden, and that we try to change the world. Of course we do! If not us, who? But the reality is we shouldn't be expected to do it alone." 

Louise Simonds, engineering program director at ConnectWise

"Engineering is such a gratifying career, for men and women. As a child, I gravitated towards problem-solving activities such as number and jigsaw puzzles, logic problems and reading mystery novels for entertainment. My career in software engineering is just an extension of that. It's so satisfying to design a solution, implement it, and then show it to a user or customer and get positive feedback - a ‘yes' which signals that you successfully solved a problem for them.

While an engineering career is rewarding, it can be intimidating to be the only woman in the room. There will always be that colleague who interrupts you when you are speaking, or who asks you to take the meeting notes because, you know, ‘women are better at that kind of thing'. It takes a lot of self-confidence to interrupt the interrupter, or politely decline to be the note-taker.

It's important to remember that you don't need to be just like the men to be a good engineer. Be authentic. Find role models of either sex and figure out what it is about them that makes them a good engineer, and emulate those qualities. Be curious. Ask a lot of questions (but never the same one twice!) Figure out what you love to do and bring that passion to work every day.

Ultimately, companies that limit their thinking along lines of gender, race, ethnicity etc., will find it difficult to attract and retain the talent they need to be competitive in the marketplace. If a company is building products to appeal to a broad user base, it only makes sense that the team producing these products reflect the same diversity as the target user base. This International Women in Engineering Day, I hope more organisations realise the benefits of diversity and commit to finding new ways to attract and support women in the industry."

Caroline Seymour, VP, product marketing at Zerto

"While gender equality has improved over the years in the U.S., sadly, there are still some challenges women need to overcome, especially in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). For several reasons, these fields are still male dominated. While research consistently puts the number of women comprising these industries at between 10-20%, one only needs to look at the International Space Station for a clear example of this divide in action. Just one of the seven crew members - NASA astronaut Megan McArthur - is female.

Awareness and sensitivity to the gender gap issue is greater than ever, but there is still so much more to be done to change the industry's culture to close this gap and encourage more women into high tech jobs. I have worked in the sector my whole career, and its constant evolution continues to fascinate me. There were very few women in tech when I began my career, and while this has certainly increased over the years, it is still predominantly a male-dominated industry. There are unquestionably huge opportunities here for women, especially within the engineering, software, cybersecurity, cloud, and AI sectors. 

There is still so much to do to recruit women in this industry that must start at school age. It's not for the light-hearted, and you have to be strong and not easily intimidated to overcome bias that you might face. Perseverance is important, be confident, believe in yourself and your work, and others will too."

Debra Danielson, Chief Technology Officer & Senior Vice President of Engineering, Digital Guardian

“As a woman in a leadership position in technology, I’ve committed myself in the past 10 years to coaching, mentoring, and guiding women in the industry. Although we have made some progress, the industry still has not achieved gender or cultural diversity. We must make it easier for women and culturally diverse professionals to choose technology and to stay in the field – otherwise, we will continue to face this gender and cultural disparity challenge.

Diversity is essential – both at the team level and in the boardroom. It’s critical that we create a culture in engineering where team members understand how they contribute to the success of the organization – and where they enjoy appropriate levels of autonomy in getting there. Diversity in the boardroom is just as important – I can’t stress that enough. For one thing, it’s the right thing to do. Moreover, corporate boards that promote diversity of culture, thinking, and perspective produce better outcomes – more innovation, enhanced decision-making, and an improved workforce culture.

We can all do a lot more than we realize to minimize and mitigate bias and prejudice. Think about how you recruit, manage, or simply carry out your day job. Don’t assume: research, educate, and inform. Look for ways to challenge and change.”

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Published Wednesday, June 23, 2021 3:44 PM by David Marshall
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