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2 Posts authored by: Erica Messinger Employee

My network of fellow women engineers continues to be a huge support for me, something that began when I was studying Electrical Engineering and was one of just a handful of women in the classroom. Recently I was connecting with a long-time friend and colleague who works at a different technology company. Her management recently changed and she’s finding her new manager unfortunately inept managing a workforce that is different than himself. He’s a super nice person and may be good at what he does, except that he’s stumbling over managing my friend and she’s quickly gone from motivated and high-performing to disempowered and feeling excluded. What she’s discovering however is that it’s not because of any conscious behavior on the part of her new manager, it’s all unconscious behavior to which he just is not aware.  Fast forward in time, and she carefully laid out for him specific examples of what was happening in a manner so not to put him on the defensive. He listened attentively hanging on to each of her words and ultimately expressed gratitude for her sharing. He had had no idea what was going on nor why or how he was contributing. While his actual behaviors will have a long way to go, he is now conscious of how he is affecting others and he is asking for feedback. This is excellent! He is trying and he is learning. Unfortunately for my friend, while it’s appreciated and she is happy to see this beginning of transformation, she’s already moved on. Hopefully though his growth will help foster an inclusive environment to keep all of his employees engaged and high-performing in the future.


This story is one that too many of us can probably relate to and one that continues to frustrate me. It’s often not a blatant behavior making it all the harder to pinpoint and name. Instead, it’s the repeated references and actions that reveal underlying bias. While my friend did a great job managing the situation and taking care of herself – both by finding something better for herself in which she can once more thrive, and also helping to make the environment better for others – the responsibility should not have been hers in the first place. It is important to discontinue the assumed responsibility of the already marginalized to “educate” or “take care of” those to which she/he is different. We each need to take responsibility to recognize how we might be influencing a culture of inclusion or one of exclusion.


I’m grateful to work in a corporate culture where one of our male executives inspires other men to “listen up” to become advocates for women and turn awareness into action, and where I get to represent our company in a long-standing strategic relationship with the Society of Women Engineers. That relationship helps us learn and take action. And as Karen Horting, Society of Women Engineers Executive Director & CEO, stated in her recent Forbes Article “What Role Do Men Play In Creating Diversity In The Workplace?”, "the more we work to achieve diversity, the more we realize the important role men must play in achieving this.”  To all the women, may we be courageous self-advocates. To all the men, may we proactively become aware and then move quickly to action. And to all of us, may we each take on the responsibility ourselves and not expect the person who is marginalized to become she/he who educates us on that particular facet of diversity.
 

Keysight recently launched a new video featuring Rosana, a young girl who loves to solve problems and became an engineer. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched it, and how many times watching it pulled at my heartstrings. A very strange response to a spectrum analyzer video. See for yourself.

 

The video’s inherent shout-out to women and underrepresented engineers feels so needed in a time where we still have just 12 percent women engineers working in technology today. And the trend has been flat. This is a business issue and a human issue.  It represents a

significant economic opportunity. In fact, in the recent Decoding Diversity report published by the Dalberg Global Advisory Group, it was noted that “improving ethnic and gender diversity in the U.S. technology workforce represents a massive economic opportunity, one that could create $470-$570Bn in new value for the tech industry, and could add 1.2-1.6% to national GDP.”

 

The video got me reflecting about when I first decided to become an engineer. As a young girl, despite attending a STEM-focused middle and high school, engineering wasn’t even on my radar. No one in my family had been an engineer and even more so, no one in my family knew what an engineer actually did. Besides, my sights were set on becoming a professional ballet dancer. Fortunately, when I was told I would never be able to dance again at age 16 due to chronic injuries in my legs, I had a female physics teacher who planted a seed about engineering. My path to healing peaked my curiosity around signaling pathways in the body and I sought to understand electrical currents. I ended up heading halfway across the country to study electrical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Little did I know how much I would come to enjoy the learning and the challenges posed, and be grateful for the possibilities that awaited me after graduation.

 

Some girls (and boys) know at a young age that they wish to become an engineer. And the challenge is keeping them interested and confident that they can succeed. Others have not yet even considered the possibility or have perhaps discredited the suggestion. Having the positive encouragement and role model of a female physics teacher in high school made all the difference showing me the possibility and giving me the needed confidence.

 

The importance of role models is something I’ve been deeply contemplating as I’ve become mother to two young children and am troubled by the dearth of children’s literature to read and inspire them with smart, positive female characters. Where are their role models? What kind of gender roles am I teaching my son and my daughter about what girls and boys can be, and how they can contribute to society?

 

This subject of role models is getting a lot of attention this year, especially following the box office success of Hidden Figures, based on the book of the same title. The story shares the untold contributions of three brilliant mathematicians who were critical to the NASA Space Race and were also African-American women.  The movie has begun a movement bringing mainstream attention to the dramatic underrepresentation of women and racial/ethnic minorities in STEM fields.

 

Who are the role models you wish to see?  Who might you have wished you had as role models?

I welled up with tears when I first viewed the Keysight video. We need more of these stories. Rosana will certainly be a role model for my two children and hopefully for other young girls. It is up to us, women and men in engineering, to help one another and the younger generation explore the possibilities. To be positive role models and present what is possible, encouraging more young girls and boys to consider and pursue engineering, so that they know, regardless of gender, they can become whatever they want.