Growing support for women in tech
The word STEM is a symbolic one. It resonates with people for many different reasons. It is a banner for progression, forward thinking, fast paced innovations, and even faster innovators. Electronic Specifier's Sheryl Miles further discusses.
This article originally appeared in the Jan'23 magazine issue of Electronic Specifier Design – see ES's Magazine Archives for more featured publications.
Every aspect of people’s lives has been engineered in some way, from concept and design through to production and sales. In fact, our ancestors were early engineers, they just didn’t know it – they had curiosity, they could recognise the potential of something, and they had the courage to give it a try. So, engineering, in one form or another, is in all of our DNA.
Of course, our ancestors innovated for survival, but the same basic principles of curiosity, conceivability and courage are the staple of many engineers today.
And, for as long as STEM has been around, there has also been the brave, bold and curious women working alongside their male counterparts (women who were not always recognised for their achievements).
From Ada Lovelace – who saw the potential of the analytical engine, Hedy Lamarr – the godmother of wireless communications, Edith Clarke – inventor of the Clarke calculator for graphing electrical properties, Caroline Herschel – an astronomer who discovered several comets including the periodic comet, right through to the most recently celebrated Outstanding Women Engineers of today such as Ama Frimpong – Head of Product Development at 52 North Health, Lauren Smith – Trainee Medical Engineer at United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust and Eneni Bambara-Abban – Robotics Engineer and Founder of Techover Foundation, and Anime and Chill. These inspiring women are a mere handful of the thousands of women in tech who work tirelessly and passionately in what is, predominantly, perceived as a male-driven industry.
Staying true to yourself
Some people might associate STEM with academia, whilst others see it as a creative industry. But it can also be seen as an unattainable enigma – a place people can’t see themselves because there is no one like them to look up to. However, what is common is that when you think of STEM, you almost always think of men, pay gaps and a gender divide – even though it is clear that women have been proudly working in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for a long time. On a more positive note, it seems that attitudes towards women are now changing, and the female engineers of today will be the role models for future generations of underrepresented minorities everywhere.
Glenda Roberts, Global Projects and Marketing Director at Trifast Plc, advises that when in a male-dominated industry, it is important to remember that being a woman can be a superpower. Indeed, women are finding that they don’t want to simply emulate their male counterparts because they have trust that they offer a different and valid perspective – if everyone thought the same, there would be no progression. This is a view echoed by Charul Gupta, Senior Project Manager at Transport for London who asserts that “doubting oneself is one the biggest barriers for women in tech and engineering”.
Support for women in tech is strong
In March 2022, it was reported that the number of women working in engineering was increasing – by 10% in 2021, when compared to 2010. That is a growth of less than 1% a year.
However, a recent survey conducted by Farnell Element14 revealed that men and women shared the same views on encouragement and support towards women in the technology and electronics industry. This united voice seeks to encourage women to trust in their abilities, be confident and to have faith that they can succeed in engineering, and it will hopefully be the start of an increase of diversity in the industry.
Some key survey highlights:
- Career development: men believe that women missing out on career development opportunities is an issue
- Harassment: sexism and discrimination within the workspace are still prevalent, however, the situation is improving – with 25% of respondents stating that they have never had an experience of it
- Mentors: mentorship and development opportunities for women were seen as important, with three-quarters of women stating that they felt it helped them in their careers
- Equal pay: the gender pay-gap has been a long-standing concern and it is not going away any time soon. Indeed, 40% of the female respondents said they have seen pay differentials, when compared with just 12% of men
- Policies and diversity: whilst all genders shared joint views on enforcement policies, there was a combined decrease in enthusiasm for inclusion and diversity initiatives
- Lack of support: barriers to career progression were also noted. These were mainly attributed to men blocking the way, however, some women cited that it was other females who obstructed their path
Feeling like there’s a barrier to career progression is a deterrent for a lot of people who may have otherwise been considering entering the industry. According to a report by McKinsey, women in technical roles are less likely to be promoted early in their career, which leads to many women leaving the industry prematurely. This experience is ratified by Susan Roche, General Manager, SolutionsPT: “I have been very lucky to work in environments that separate themselves from outdated gender roles and have embraced and encouraged diversity and have been willing to invest in my development and future – but I understand that this isn’t the common experience for women in STEM.
“Many of my school friends in the US went on to study STEM subjects as it seemed an exciting career path for women but relatively few of them are still working in the industry, which I think is a sad thing.”
But how can these barriers be overcome? There are lots of pros and cons when it comes to social media, but one of the more positive aspects of it is that women of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds can use it as a way to celebrate their achievements and encourage others in a way that they may have not been encouraged themselves.
Self-promotion – a key issue
Despite all the positivity and support beginning to surround women in tech, one of the challenges still faced today is the balance of communication. On the one hand discrimination is felt if women do not positively communicate their achievements, but on the other hand, when they do, they are seen as aggressive. It is an impossible balancing act for anyone. Despite this, the stigma around women in tech, and notably in the upper echelons, is changing. Females are no longer feeling like they must behave like a man to be successful. In fact, just the opposite is true, and to wholly thrive in any environment, you must first bring yourself and your unique perspective. After all, if nothing was challenged, nothing would change.
Whilst there is still some way to go to build the bridge of equality between men and women in the technology and electronics industry, the foundations are looking good for a fully-rounded and welcoming community that embraces and celebrates differences, rather than sets them apart.