Women in Tech

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2021

8th March 2021
Lanna Deamer

Today we are celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD), a day when countries all over the world celebrate the achievements of women. IWD has been observed since the early 1900s and each year the organisers choose a new theme as a banner under which they can unify the direction of everyone’s efforts and help raise awareness. This year’s theme is 'Choose to Challenge' and we can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements.

Here at Electronic Specifier, we are celebrating the day with the release of a brand-new category on our website: Women in Technology. We also have an IWD themed newsletter going out today so keep your eyes peeled.

As part of our recently launched Electronic Specifier Insights podcast, we have featured several key women in the industry. Not least Jackie Mattox, Founder of Women in Electronics (WE). WE is a community of progressive women leaders who are dedicated to the professional and personal leadership development of women in the fast-paced electronics industry.

WE was formed in of 2017 by a group of 20 inaugural women coming from all over the US. The group was built with the premise of women working collaboratively to find inspiration, strength, and empowerment through a sense of community.

The organisation’s objectives are to empower women through virtual event discussion groups; to develop women with its Professional and Personal Leadership Training and Development Program; advocate for itself and others through the professional career coaching in the Mentorship Program; and to celebrate the accomplishments and advancement of women.

In addition, we recently caught up with National Instruments (NI) who have launched an ambitious corporate impact strategy to make good on their new company identity and its promise to ‘Engineer Ambitiously’. In a drive to make the company, and its impact on the world, more diverse, equitable and inclusive, NI is committing to 15 goals, one of which is that by 2030 NI will aim for 50% of its global workforce and people managers to be women.

Electronic Specifier discussed this strategy with Tabitha Upshaw, Head of Corporate Impact and Shelley Gretlein, Vice President of Brand and Communications, Global Marketing.

Women in Engineering

The campaign for greater gender diversity in STEM, is calling on employers to build flexibility into the DNA of their policies to create different routes into STEM roles. The call came on the first of WISE’s two-day virtual conference; ‘Inclusive growth, transformative action and driving sustainability’.

Kay Hussain, Chief Executive of WISE, the campaign for greater diversity in STEM, told delegates: “There is a growing recognition that to be more sustainable, we must first be more equal. The correlation between diversity and improved business performance has been proven; just as with gender balance, we know that sustainability is a key driver for business success in today’s world and we must embrace it together.”

With the pandemic creating the opportunity to rethink and rebuild in a more sustainable way, and the UK Government setting out its ‘green industrial revolution 10-point plan’ which it estimates will create 250,000 jobs, WISE wants to see more women given the opportunity to play their part.

Kay said: “We must engage young people, especially girls, and showcase the exciting and fulfilling opportunities available in sustainability-focussed STEM. We need to leverage the enthusiasm and excitement which young leaders such as Greta Thunberg have inspired and show girls that careers in STEM really can change the world. Many of the role models on our WISE platform - My Skills My Life - cite improving the world as their key driver.”

Day two of the WISE conference will take place on 9th March, full details can be found here.

Another woman who is acting as a major driving force behind this change is former Rolls-Royce Engineering Programme Manager, and AstraZeneca Systems Engineer, Foram Brown. She is working with top STEM corporations to design and implement new leadership and executive search solutions to improve professional opportunities for skilled, talented women.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, when she was not only Head of Mechanical Engineering at Bombardier but also a mother to two young girls, today Foram Brown is a survivor on a mission to tackle the notable lack of female leadership in engineering. The launch of an exciting new project will see Foram working with organisations to facilitate the recruitment of 10,000 women into engineering roles by 2030, creating employment opportunities worth £1bn. Through the initiative, Foram will assist in board composition, c-level, executive, director, and management searches for STEM organisations, facilitating a new approach to search by networking, building relationships, and identifying top talent to help drive STEM firms forwards.

“The number of women in STEM careers is already incredibly low, and while we’ve certainly been making progress over the past few years, the concern today is that the pandemic is creating what could amount to a devastating gender recession. Women are more likely to report being encouraged to take redundancy or furlough during COVID-19, and are also more likely to voluntarily step down due to childcare issues arising from school closures, which could undo years of hard work into creating greater equality in the workplace.”

Last year, research from the World Economic Forum revealed that just 30% - less than one third - of the global STEM workforce was made up of women. Women are statistically less likely than men to study a STEM subject, and those women that do enter into STEM careers are, on average, paid less than men.

Three young women engineers have also been recognised at the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards for their work in engineering.

IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year: Ella Podmore (25), is a Materials Engineer for luxury British supercar maker McLaren Automotive. Ella is responsible for all the material investigations in the business across the development phases of the company’s supercars; from concept drawings, all the way to customers in the field. Balancing her time between experiments and leading technical meetings, Ella created this department from the ground-up and plans to demonstrate the importance of materials in the automotive industry even further.

IET Mary George Memorial Prize for Apprentices: Denize Ivy Pilatra (21), is an Apprentice Non-Destructive Examination Engineering Technician at BAE Systems Submarines. Denize is responsible for ensuring the structural integrity of submarines, working alongside technicians confirming critical components are free from unwanted defects. As a passionate STEM ambassador, Denize supports many educational events and has been awarded for her dedication to continuously improve and actively promote the endless possibilities within STEM to young girls.

Women’s Engineering Society (WES) Prize: Shrouk El-Attar (28), is an Electronic Engineer at Elvie. Shrouk engineers smart tech that improves the lives of cis women and trans men, whilst breaking down barriers and smashing taboos. Shrouk has been a STEM Ambassador since 2011, teaching children about engineering solutions and most recently headed up a project, teaching maths to children of refugees.

On winning, Ella said: “I am absolutely honoured to have been chosen by the IET and the judges to be this year’s winner. Those who know and work with me recognise how passionate I am about my science and being able to talk about that and the amazing supercars I get to work on at McLaren. I want to encourage the next generation of engineers and scientists to push the boundaries of what’s possible.”

Finalists Bethany Probert, Melanie Jimenez and Neera Kukadia were all highly commended. All winners and finalists will play an ambassadorial role for the engineering and technology professions in the forthcoming months, promoting engineering careers to girls and young people.

 Now in its second year, the Gender Diversity Ambassador Award, which recognises an individual’s hard work in achieving gender equality within the engineering industry, was awarded to Pam Wilson. The award aims to showcase innovation and good practice to compliment the YWE Awards, by recognising the support and encouragement of women in STEM careers.

Pam is passionate that engineering is seen as a rewarding and enjoyable career and she supports the promotion of STEM whenever she can. She actively mentors within her own company and externally and sees key skills for all future engineers to be problem solving, knowledge sharing, balancing risks, process improvement and a continuous desire to learn and evolve in what is an ever-changing environment.

These prestigious engineering industry awards celebrate women working in modern engineering - and aim to help change the perception that engineering is predominantly a career for men by banishing outdated engineering stereotypes of hard hats and dirty overalls.

Industry events striving for change

To help ensure equal and inclusive work conditions in STEM, European research initiative, the Graphene Flagship, is holding a career event as part of its Diversity in Graphene programme. The Diversity in Graphene Career Event 2021 is a digital event, taking place over two days, 8th to 9th March 2021. The first day will include sessions on topics from equal opportunities in STEM, to the experiences of diverse Graphene Flagship speakers working in industry and academia.

On the second day, Springboard Consultancy, a training company specialised in diversity and inclusion training, will deliver an interactive workshop on the best strategies for working and networking from home. Initially launched in September 2020, Diversity in Graphene expands upon the remit of the former Women in Graphene initiative by the Graphene Flagship - to strive for the inclusion of all minority and marginalised groups in science, including people with disabilities, people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community.

The Diversity in Graphene Career Event 2021 builds on the success of the Women in Graphene 2020 career workshop, the Graphene Flagship’s first virtual conference, which was held at the start of the pandemic. Speakers at this year’s event include Polina Kuzhir, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow in the Institute of Photonics, at Graphene Flagship Associate Member the University of Eastern Finland, who will discuss the role of international cooperation and mobility plays in research teams and career development.

Another event in the Diversity in Graphene calendar took place on 11th February 2021, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The event, an online Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, was aimed to increase the representation and visibility of women and underrepresented groups in STEM, by updating, improving, or creating biographies of notable women in science, on the fifth most visited website in the world.

Registration is free to everyone, whether or not they are part of a partner institute of the Graphene Flagship.

Choose to Challenge

We also spoke to some of the inspiring women that work within RingGo, UK cashless parking provider, to discuss the challenges they have chosen to overcome.

We have delved into the stigmas they have tackled, the support networks that have helped them along the way and what they think needs to be done to help support women moving forward, specifically in the technology space.

Revathy Jeevanantham, Technology Manager at RingGo, explained the cultural barriers she has had to overcome to be where she is today, not forgetting the support of the strong women in her family who have helped her along the way: “I grew up in a big family surrounded by strong women, but their strength was displayed in lots of different ways. Whether that was determination after a tragedy or being the glue that holds the family together, these women shaped me.

"That is not to say I always made choices that they agreed with. I wanted more and pushed the boundaries of what was expected as a woman. This is something that drove me to move to the UK, and despite the challenges I was faced with, I was able to start a successful career in an entirely new country. I had to persevere, and something that spoke to that drive was a phrase in my native Tamizh that loosely translates to ‘believe you can achieve, and you can achieve’.

"Leaning on others has also helped me succeed - finding women who can be your sounding boards and who make you feel like we are all in it together; whether that is home schooling or pushing through a work project, are so important. It’s a wonderful feeling to be inspired by the women around you and to feel solidarity with them.

"As a woman in tech, I think the biggest barrier to the industry is actually instilled in us as children. We need to make careers in technology appealing to little girls, to show them how exciting and accessible they can be. Once you hit university or first jobs, it is often too late to encourage a career in technology. It has to happen at a young age and women like me, in technology roles, need to step up to make this happen.”

Lisane Harris, Senior Product Manager at RingGo, puts a lot of emphasis on emotions being the key to success - women are often told to shy away from showing they care but it should be viewed as a strength, not a weakness: “Growing up I wanted to be the first female Formula 1 driver... how my path changed! From completing a law degree to beginning my journey in product management, it’s fair to say my career has been a varied one. My drive has always been fuelled by my admiration for my mum, she managed what can sometimes feel like the impossible: balancing being a high-flying career driven woman in the corporate world with consistently making time for the family and being present.”

“The best lesson I learnt from my mum was that having empathy and expressing emotion in the workplace is a strength, not a weakness. I feel as though remembering to care can be forgotten in the tech industry, simply because of the nature of our work. We approach things from a very practical point of view, and that sometimes spills over into relationships in the office. For me, having passion about our products and people is of the utmost importance.”

“That empathy for others is a message I think really aligns with this year’s 'Choose to Challenge' theme for International Women’s Day. We need to be willing to stand beside people who are going to challenge the status quo, and I think one of the biggest steps within the tech industry specifically is for men to combat the stereotypes around women in tech. Progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go.”

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