I am not an engineer. But I am a woman who spends most of her days working in a high-tech industry dominated by engineers; most of them male.
I fell into this industry by accident. A stay-at-home mom re-entering the workforce with a degree in communications and journalism, I landed an associate editor job with Advanced Packaging Magazine, and suddenly found myself immersed in the world of semiconductor technology.
Part of my job then, as it is now, was to attend technology conferences and trade shows and interview industry experts. One of the first things I noticed about the semiconductor industry was the lack of gender diversity, particularly in the engineering and executive roles. Most, but not all, of the women I met were in PR and marketing communication roles, like me. So, whether you are new to the industry or not, here is my advice from the trenches to you, my fellow woman in tech.
Build your network
Where numbers are few, bonds of friendship form. We gather at networking events. Conversations may start on technology, but veer off to more personal topics like parenting, relationships, traveling for work, food, and of course, being a woman in a male dominated industry. We started calling ourselves “SemiSisters” and formed an informal community. We have a twitter handle and a LinkedIn group where we share topical articles and group photos when we all get together.
Despite the establishment of women in technology organizations and trending hashtags like #womenintech, #WIT, #womeninSTEM and #GirlsWhoCode, there is still a huge disparity in the numbers of women-to-men in high tech fields.
Both IEEE and SEMI, the two leading organizations for the electronics and semiconductor industries, are trying to change that. Over the past five or so years they have included panel discussions and forums at their international events to better support women in the field, and to find ways to entice more women to pursue high tech careers.
Advocate for yourself
I recently attended the 2018 IEEE Electronic Component Technology Conference (ECTC), which featured a women’s panel discussion on how to enhance women’s participation in engineering around the globe. The panel comprised women of different ages, who held various roles and were at different stages of their career. They shared stories of their career paths, the challenges they faced with work/life balance, and offered tips on how to get ahead.
Kat Kasim, Boeing Research and Technology, said one of her frustrations has been getting credit for her work.
“Working behind the ‘curtain’, I relied on my lead to tell my manager what great work I was doing. But it’s not his responsibility to grow my career,” she said.
Realizing it was up to her to gain visibility, she needed to become a project lead herself. So, she made it happen.
Jayathi Murthy, Dean of Engineering at UCLA, talked about being in the industry since the early days. She said there were only 10 women in her undergraduate program. Keeping her spirits up was the biggest challenge. She worked for a small company before moving into academia.
Her advice to women in the field?
“Own your own career. Empower yourself to move forward, regardless of what comes along,” she said. “Focus your energy on being strategic and work on the bigger picture.”
Murthy says there’s a lot to be positive about even though in the past eight years, the percentage of women in the semiconductor industry has only grown from 16% to 24%.
Both men and women attended this event, and many reported being enlightened by the panelists’ stories of their respective career paths, and the advice given for women in the room just embarking on their careers.
Be an individual
I was hoping for more discussion about how to encourage young women to join the high-tech workforce. SEMI picked up the ball on that last week during SEMICON West in their Smart Workforce Pavilion, which offered a number of programs throughout the week designed to encourage not only women, but young people of all genders and cultures to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
During a discussion on successful mentoring, one attendee asked what approach he should take to mentor women vs. men. The response, from Christina Chu, of Tel-Nexx Systems hit the nail on the head.
“I’ve mentored both men and women, and what I find is that you’re mentoring an individual… the relationship is between one individual–yourself, and the person your mentoring.”
Own your career
Jessica Gomez, founder and CEO of Rogue Valley Microelectronics, who co-hosted a session on data of diversity along with Ed Zabasajja, director, office of data analytics and retention at Intel, noted that only 12% of electrical and chemical engineers are women, and that racial diversity is even worse. “Based on the data, neither Ed nor I should be here!” she said.
Gomez’ advice to young women seeking a career in technology echoed that of the women in the ECTC panel: Take charge of your own future and build the environment in which you want to work.