Women in Tech

The semiconductor industry owes a lot to women

21st October 2021
Beatrice O'Flaherty

In this fourth and final installment of a women in tech series, Mouser's Marie-Pierre Ducharme discusses significant female engineers, such as Esther Marley Cornwell (pictured above), that have pioneered research in semiconductor technology. Despite the low levels of headcount, women have played significant roles in advancing semiconductor technology. She looks at the contributions of a few talented and successful women.

While there are women in pivotal or leadership roles in the semiconductor industry, they remain in the minority.  In 2019, GSA carried out a detailed survey in collaboration with Accenture to study gender equality in the semiconductor industry – across all functions and ranks and within large and small organisations. One of the key findings was that women only represent 10 to 25% of all employees in the semiconductor industry and this is set to continue with recruitment underpinning this ratio. In leadership roles (director and above), less than one percent of roles are filled by women, although this is generally better in larger organisations.

While many companies offer benefits such as flexible working and maternity leave, relatively few are investing in more progressive programs that might attract more women into the industry.

Esther Marley Conwell

Born in Brooklyn in 1922, Conwell studied physics at Brooklyn College before moving on to the University of Rochester and University of Chicago to complete a master’s degree and PhD. This started a 62 year career of research into semiconductors, organic crystals, conductive polymers and DNA. Her career encompassed time at Bell Laboratories, Sylvania Labs and the Xerox Webster Research Centre where she researched semiconductors such as germanium and silicon.

After she retired in 1998, she went back to the University of Rochester, this time as a professor where she did a further 16 years of research until she passed away in a car accident, at the age of 92.

During her illustrious career she received many honours including membership of the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Engineering. In 2002, she was one of Discover magazine’s Top 50 Women in Science and received the National Medal of Science in 2009. Perhaps her greatest achievement was being the first woman to receive the Edison Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 1997.

Women in semiconductors today

While remaining underrepresented by headcount, a significant number of women are making valuable contributions to the semiconductor industry in technology and business focused roles. Here are a few examples:

Lalitha Suryanarayana is the vice president, strategy, mergers & acquisitions at Infineon Technologies. With a career spanning over 25 years in telecoms and semiconductors she has held roles in product management, partner business development and operations.

Lalitha Suryanarayana

She holds a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering from NYU Polytechnic and an MBA from the University of Texas. During her time as an engineer, she was recognised for her pioneering contributions to the standardisation of mobile and device-independent web technologies. She is the author of multiple publications including a technical book and has issued a total of 48 patents.

Debra Bell is vice president of DRAM engineering at Micron. She currently holds 58 US patents relating to DRAM circuit design and product engineering technologies – with more in the pipeline. With patents stretching back over two decades, Bell firmly believes that, as a female engineer, she has a unique perspective that has made her successful by allowing her to view situations and solutions differently.

Eileen Rabadam is an engineering program manager at Intel Corporation where she works on developing new technologies for semiconductor packages. Her role involves developing new technologies and then ramping these into full production. This varied role uses her analytical skills for problem solving as well as people skills in bringing diverse teams together.

Dr Cristina Amon is dean and alumni professor in Bioengineering at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. As dean she is responsible for the strategy and vision of one of the world’s most distinguished engineering faculties with a budget approaching $300m, 750 staff / researchers and nearly 8,000 students.

Taking stock of the stats

While the statistics for the number of women employed in the semiconductor industry might, at first, appear disappointing – there are multiple examples of successful careers in this industry in both business and engineering roles. In fact, some attribute their success to the fact that they are women and able to take a different approach to the many challenges.

Hopefully, the women featured in this article, and the hundreds of others following equally successful career paths in the semiconductor world, will inspire more women to follow in their footsteps.

About the author

Marie-Pierre Ducharme, director of Supplier Marketing & Business Development EMEA, Mouser Electronics, plays an active role in developing innovative and engaging market strategies with component suppliers. 

Prior to joining Mouser, Ducharme worked for semiconductor powerhouse Texas Instruments, where she held various roles focused on business development and key account management.

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