With women accounting for just 12% of engineers in the US, gender equality has become a burgeoning topic in tech. So much so, in fact, that a Women in Engineering panel at 7:30 a.m. on the second day of the Embedded Systems Conference , was to a full room.
“As a society we’re doing something wrong here. It’s just not right,” said panelist Alpana Kaulgud , a senior director of Architecture at ARM. Women are simply not graduating in high enough numbers from engineering school, “and of the percentage that actually graduate and join an organization that is very male heavy, over time, either because of other priorities, or feeling isolated, or some mismatch, women do drop out,” explained Kaulgud, adding that the problem is a two-pronged one; how to get more women to graduate with an engineering degree and how to get them to stay in engineering.
Jessica Gomez, founder & CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices said women’s underrepresentation in engineering is a multifaceted problem which often starts when girls are very young, but also has to do with how women think and feel about work. “We want to do something important. We want to do something that contributes to the world around us, for our community, something that’s creative. Oftentimes, engineering just doesn’t present itself in that way,” she said, noting that it is mainly an awareness issue. “Sometimes it’s hard for girls to make that leap to see engineering as being able to do really important things in the world, like in world health issues or the environment, and make a substantial amount of money doing it, too.”
Heather Andrus, general manager at Radius Innovation Studio noted that she tried exceptionally hard to raise her girls in as gender-neutral an environment as possible, but that peer pressure from friends still plays a big role. “It’s just not cool. It’s not something they can talk about with their friends,” she said, adding that her family had found a workaround by sending her daughters to all-girls tech summer camp, Alexa Cafe , which takes the things young girls often care about and ties it to technology, creating an ecosystem where their interests are supported.
“Spend time with your kids and teach them how to do things,” added Gomez. “How are things made? Even learning how to do things like sewing, or making cookies. Making anything. All those things are fun. And what makes a great engineer? Creativity. We are lacking that in our schools. Tactile experience is really important.”
“It’s only recently have we started having these conversations out in broad daylight,” said Lisa Fetterman, founder & CEO of Nomiku, noting that this in itself is huge progress. “I don’t think I can go anywhere within my network without somebody commenting on the dearth of women in sciences, and I say, ‘hell yeah, keep talking about that, that’s great!’ It tends to make some of my other girlfriends in the field pretty … sad. And you know what? It is sad. But you have to swallow sadness and then use it.”