SAN FRANCISCO – Being a woman in the engineering field can be isolating when you rarely meet other women in technical positions. Materials scientist Dominique Freckmann said she could count on one hand the number of women engineers she’s had technical discussions with.
It isn’t that Freckmann, TE Connectivity’s automotive engineering manager, hasn't been on the lookout. The American Association of University Women reported that just 12% of engineers are women and the number of women in computing has fallen from 35% in 1990 to just 26% in 2015. The numbers are particularly low for women of color, where black and Hispanic women each make up 1% of the engineering workforce.
Despite seemingly unlimited possibilities for discovery and innovation, diversity and inclusion of women in engineering has been difficult. In celebration of the 65th annual Engineers Week, TE Connectivity hosted a webcast to discuss the roles of women in engineering and give advice.
“And because the field of engineering is changing our world every day, women working in engineering can be powerful role models for young girls pursuing an education and career in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM),” TE officials wrote in a release.
The following is excerpted from TE’s panel discussion on Feb. 25.
Moderator Karen Leggio, TE Connectivity senior vice president and general manager for Automotive Americas: You’re newly leading our business development office in the Silicon Valley. Are you treated any differently because you’re a woman?
Freckmann: No. Things move very fast and people just don’t have time. Why deal with things like gender if the expertise is there? People want to know your knowledge and move on.
Moderator: Your primary work location is out on ships installing fiber optic cables. Can you describe some of the ups and downs you face as a new engineer?
Mishal Shahab, SubCom cable installation engineer at TE Connectivity and senior vice president of Society of Women Engineers/New Jersey Chapter: There was a huge learning curve moving from college to work life; the problems are very different. But you figure them out any way you can, there’s a lot of trial and error.
Moderator: What motivated you to join the Society of Women Engineers and why is it important?
Shahab: Someone forced me to go to an outreach event with Girl Scouts; we made perfumes and built bridges and it was fun. The reason why I stayed and why it’s important is because, one, it introduces you to STEM ideas when you’re younger and there’s lots of professional development. You also get to design experiences and make a difference in the world. Also, two heads are better than one, so if you have a room of engineers you can solve a lot of problems.
Moderator: What inspired you to become an engineer and what’s your favorite part of your job?
Jennifer Farah, General Motors interior lighting global technical lead: Originally I wasn’t sure I wanted to be an engineer. In the end I decided that you can do anything with an engineering degree, but I couldn’t do engineering with a marketing degree. It gave me the most opportunity to do other things if I chose to later on.
With a company this large, there are so many opportunities to try new things…I feel like you really could never exhaust all the options.
Moderator: How do you balance the demands of raising a family and being an engineer?
Farah: I think it’s getting better and better over time with the ability to work from home. I’ve done different things to make it work for us – I’ve had opportunities when I’ve gone to 30 hours a week – but there are so many opportunities to [work and have a family] and do both well where you don’t feel like you’re sacrificing one for the other. People are usually willing to work with you to come up with alternatives….Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
Moderator: Do you think that companies can truly out innovate and outperform others if they make diversity an inclusion a priority?
Rob Shaddock, TE Connectivity chief technology officer: We tend of think of innovation coming from a lone genius but it comes from people working together, collaborating and co-creating. If you don’t get a diverse bunch of experiences to solve a problem, then you get into group think.
Moderator: How does TE foster that environment of inclusion and diversity, especially in engineering fields?
Shaddock: It’s a mixture of process and practice. One of things is really start talking about inclusion and diversity. We need to ask for diverse slates of candidates in recruiting.
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