I meant to post this Friday on the actual International Women’s Day, but since it is not an actual anniversary day, I guess missing by the weekend is OK.
Back in the 60s in my freshman engineering class, there were 700 total students. Seven were women. Plus, almost all the faces were white.
Today when I go to a technical conference the proportion of women is large. Perhaps 40% or so. And the cultural mix is similarly large. In many ways we have progressed. In other ways, there are still people, processes, and systems that prevent many people, especially women, from pursuing a technical career.
Several media relations people reached out to propose interviews with women in technology in order to tease out their career path as an example to others. Now, the junior and senior high girls who would be the target do not read this blog. I know, that is shocking! However, you are reading, and you could be encouraged to pass the thoughts along to those who might benefit from encouragement.
One such interview was with Isabel Yang, CTO at Advanced Energy Industries She is both (as described by the PR person) woman and minority, an MIT PhD in engineering, who now holds a C-suite position at a publicly traded manufacturing company. We actually recorded the conversation which will appear as Episode 186 on my long-running podcast series Gary on Manufacturing.
She told me, “I believe women need to shape their own destiny in their careers and lives. Now more than ever, we must work to establish a set of core skills early in our careers and gradually grow ourselves into experts, then progressively branch out to learn about adjacent areas or new areas to acquire new skills.” She lived this out as an engineer honing one expertise, then as a business strategy analyst, then finally putting it all together as chief technology officer.
Last week I attended the ABB Customer World conference in Houston. Here, my media contact set up an interview with Susan Peterson Sturm, Digital Lead for Oil & Gas at ABB, and a cybersecurity expert.
She told me that people may not get a degree in cyber security. What happens is perhaps a woman earns a technical degree. As she becomes involved on an engineering team, she sees problems involving cyber security. Perhaps she becomes curious and dives deeper into the field. She reads articles and books, goes to conferences, makes contacts in the field. Then she becomes recognized in the field and earns an assignment. At this point (if not before), she learns that just being technical isn’t enough. She must learn how to influence people. Her effectiveness rises. It’s a virtuous cycle.