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Insights Unlocked

4 Posts authored by: Pat Harper Employee

If my 35-year career in the tech industry has taught me anything, it is that we need to educate children in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills NOW to prepare them for our future tomorrow. If we miss this opportunity, we may see these fields start to slip behind their potential in the not-too-distant future. We are already on the cusp of such impact. The Smithsonian Science Education Center has projected that 2.4 million STEM jobs will go unfilled this year. That statistic alone should be a wake-up call for the tech industry to not only support but actively push opportunities for STEM development within school systems worldwide. If not for our collective future, for the future of their businesses.


The good news is that I have seen a lot of mobilization in this area in recent years. Many organizations and companies, Keysight included, have programs focused on STEM education and outreach to school-aged students. As an example, my colleague, Rice Williams, recently discussed the Keysight After School program in his post Making STEM Visible to Children through Invisible Forces – Figuratively and Literally! Such efforts provide hands-on experiences for children in a rich learning environment supported by individuals active in STEM fields. It is great hearing about, and actively participating in, such programs. But that is not what I want to talk about today. Today, I want to talk about a different angle to STEM education. One that supports the same goals, but through a different, yet critically important avenue … the teachers.


Teachers are on the front-line of educating future engineers and scientists

While they have many tools to choose from, for many teachers, private industry is a mystery. Some have never worked outside a classroom and have no experience understanding the needs and expectations of the companies that will ultimately employ their students in the future. That is where companies can help: educating our educators on what technology companies do, who they hire, why they operate, and the skills needed in their future workforce. Ultimately, such engagements can help teachers develop learning plans that align to corporate needs while answering the age-old question from students of “why do I need to learn this?”


To this end, Keysight employees collaborated with the CTE (Career Technical Education) Foundation and Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) to develop a Teacher Externship Program. The goal of the program is for teachers to gain local industry experience for a week, enabling them to develop project-based learning (PBL) lesson plans from their experience to take back to the classroom.


As an example of the program in action, Keysight headquarters recently hosted six teachers from Rancho Cotate High School and Tech Middle School for a week of full-day sessions. In this event, a broad cross-section of teachers – in math, English, language arts, and fashion design disciplines – engaged with Keysight presenters that shared their own journeys at the company, their roles, and the future employee skillsets needed in their fields. In addition, the event had teachers take part in a role-reversal, playing the role of students. In a unique twist, during the event, an 11th-grade teacher participant had lunch with a former student who now works at Keysight. They chatted about how high school did and did not prepare him for work here.


By exposing these teachers to what it takes to work in a technology company and experience the student perspective, they gained new insights about the process of learning and what it means to work in a technology company. A participating 6th-grade teacher noted to me that the Keysight employee stories were invaluable and motivated them to create and implement new classroom projects. And as Brandon Jewell, Director of Industry Engagement, CTE Foundation noted, “your team provided unique insight into the skills needed to enter the industry while also giving teachers a hands-on experience that will be critical as the teachers build their projects and will positively impact their future teachings going forward.”


Teacher Externship Program for STEM: gaining traction and recognition

While the program was developed in 2014, it has now spread to several other companies across Sonoma County and other Keysight offices, fostering value-added connections between teachers and local industry. Over the last several years, the program has been extended to other local companies and collectively have trained dozens of teachers and impacted thousands of students as we help to build the STEM workforce of the future. I was thrilled when Keysight and the SCOE were recently recognized by the State of California Department of Education at the California STEM Symposium for the program, giving it increased visibility as a program that any tech company can consider.


Now it’s your turn. If your business has not already started a similar program, consider this concept as an opportunity to expand efforts in the STEM education space. You won’t regret it!

When Google employee James Damore sent out an internal memo questioning his company’s diversity policies, he likely didn’t expect that it would go viral. It did. In its wake, a firestorm of discussion emerged in Silicon Valley and beyond—one that still rages today. Whether you agree with James’ assessment of gender bias and diversity in the workplace or not, one thing we can all agree on is that it brought renewed focus to a timely topic, one that should be just as important to men as it is to women.

It’s a topic I’ve come to know well during the span of my 35-year career in the tech industry, and one that I recently had a chance to reflect on during an interview I gave to Society for Women Engineers (SWE). During that time, my personal journey has taken me from a man not aware of my unconscious bias extended toward women, to one who now serves as their full-on diversity partner. It’s a journey I’m hoping more men will take.


Becoming an advocate for women

For me, that journey began back in the 90’s. I was a young manager at the time, fairly new to management in fact. I had been trying to promote women in my organization and because of my efforts, received an invitation to the HP Technical Women’s Conference in Silicon Valley. I was one of only two men in attendance.

During the event, I’d sit in a room with what seemed like 5,000 women and listen to speakers talk about unconscious bias. I watched in amazement as every woman in the room universally agreed that it was a problem. I had never thought about it before—how my unconscious bias toward women could actually be contributing to the problem. That idea and many of the other issues the speakers spoke about weren’t even on my radar. It was a wake-up call.

That realization is just as relevant today as it was back in the 90’s. Consider a 2012 study (Moss-Racusin et al., 2012) designed to examine how applicants were evaluated for a lab manager position. Faculty were presented identical applications for the position, the only difference being that candidates were given obvious male or female names. Despite having the same qualifications, both male and female faculty routinely rated female student candidates lower than their male counterparts. The female applicants were seen as less hirable and offered lower salaries. The study revealed what many of us already know—there’s a clear unconscious bias against women in the workplace.

What I learned about unconscious bias from that conference I attended all those years ago stayed with me throughout my career. It helped transform me into an active and full-on diversity partner with women. What’s more, I make it my goal to ensure other managers and emerging leaders can attend similar conferences in the hopes that they too will have the same experience and transformation. 


Turning awareness into action

The experience alone is not enough. Being aware of unconscious bias is certainly the first step in helping to overcome it, but for that awareness to make any real difference it has to lead to tangible action. In other words, men have to become allies with and advocates for women, whether in engineering or any other profession.

What can you do to be an ally for women in the workplace?


1.  Uncover your hidden biases about gender diversity in the workplace.

You don’t have to attend a conference like I did to find out if you have an unconscious bias toward women. All you need to do is take a quick and easy online Implicit Association Test (IAT), such as the Gender-Career or Gender-Science IAT.


2. Watch a video on techniques for ending sexism in the workplace.

In just a short 10-minute time span, you can watch a video that will tell you about 5 easy things you can do today to promote diversity in the workplace. Watch “5 Ways Men Can Help End Sexism”.


3. Start you own personal diversity action plan.

A diversity action plan is a written plan of the actions you personally intend to take to promote gender equity and diversity in the workplace. My plan involves a number of different things. As a manager, I am vigilant in assigning new projects or tasks based on skill, but also with a mindset toward providing growth opportunities for women engineers. I look for ways to help them grow and gain higher visibility.


I also actively go through my data on employee pay equity once a year. I examine job category, employee gender, where they work, how much they make, etc. to make sure that all employees are paid equitably and that we have a good female-male split. If adjustments need to be made, we determine how best to do that. And, I try and make sure that all engineers, women and men, are set for success with good work/life balance.

One of the great tools we have to promote work/life balance for our employees at Keysight is the Hidden Valley Elementary K-3 school, built on Keysight’s land in Santa Rosa, California. Parents at the Santa Rosa site have the flexibility to join their kids for lunch, participate in school activities, or even help out in the classroom during the day. It’s been key in ensuring our engineers feel that they can have both a family and career.


Another critical part of my personal action plan is serving as a member of the Keysight - Society of Women Engineers Enterprise Program (KSWEEP). KSWEEP is an organization within Keysight designed to support the efforts of the Society for Women Engineers (SWE). We do this by sponsoring employees to attend SWE conferences and providing communities, networking, professional development and outreach opportunities throughout the year. We also sponsor local activities and recently helped SWE expand its global footprint into Penang, Malaysia.


And, because I feel strongly that it’s the responsibility of male senior and executive leaders to help the next generation of male engineers learn about gender equality and diversity issues, I’ve made it my goal to find ways to actively encourage those leaders to take up that role and become part of the solution. One solution I found was to bring one of my top male engineering managers to last year’s SWE conference.


Those actions are all part for my personal action plan. Your plan might look quite different. You could choose to:

  • Talk with your female colleagues and really listen to what they might convey and offer about their gender-related experiences in the workplace. Seek opportunities where you gain such access.
  • Ensure female colleagues have equal time to speak at meetings and be sure to share information equally with female and male colleagues. Minimize mansplaining.
  • Make sure female colleagues get included and invited to informal work gatherings.
  • Demonstrate your commitment to gender equity to your colleagues. Take corrective action when you notice gender inequities and bias. Your silence otherwise makes it acceptable.
  • Nominate women for awards, honors and work positions, when and where applicable.
  • Start a work committee designed to encourage men too to act as an ally for gender equity in the workplace. If one already exists, volunteer to help.
  • Recognize that women often have disproportionate responsibilities for child and elderly parent care. Turn that awareness into action by supporting a work/life balance and doing things like planning meetings with consideration for your teams personal/family schedules.

Find your voice

Whatever you chose to include in your personal action plan, the point is to do something. Don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution. It’s a journey we can all take together, and one that promises to positively transform not only the workplace, but society in general.


You can start on your own personal journey by sharing this blog post with your colleagues. Use it to open up a discussion on gender bias and diversity. As I did all those years ago, you may just find yourself really seeing the issue for the first time, and deciding to become an active diversity partner for women in your workplace.

Most of the students who take my Executive MBA class are working for companies that have an ocean and several time zones between their R&D and manufacturing teams. They’ll spend their careers looking for ways to close the gap in their supply chain so their companies can move faster, work more efficiently, and be more competitive.


As I mentioned in a previous post, the old concept of throwing a design “over the wall” to manufacturing is not feasible in a world where most companies are moving at warp speed, and introducing new products at a furious pace to meet global demand. Design and manufacturing teams need to be joined at the hip to keep up. The key is to make it easy for upstream teams to address downstream requirements in the earliest phases of design. Design teams know that it’s the right thing to do, they just need good tools. Here are four that have had a major impact on supply chain optimization at Keysight.


  1. Design guidelines


Awhile back, we developed a process at Keysight that automates the wire-bonding of microcircuits. The process boosts production throughput—but only if boards are laid out correctly. If a bonding pad is off by even a couple of millimeters, then the automated arm can’t access the pad, and production is delayed while the design is reworked. That kind of scenario is why design guidelines are needed. Design guidelines provide detailed specifications so designers know their layouts are compatible with downstream processes. These are living documents:  When an unforeseen event triggers a rework cycle, the guidelines are updated to eliminate the problem from future production runs. Design guidelines have the added advantage of getting designers and production engineers talking. Both sides have an equal voice in updating the guidelines, so if anyone sees an opportunity to improve efficiency or save steps, their input can be incorporated into the workflow. That kind of cross-discipline dialog expands institutional knowledge and ultimately reduces time, rework, and headaches on both ends.


  1. Preferred parts database


A preferred parts database (PPD) helps R&D teams quickly select parts that will work in their designs. The database should include known-good parts that are reliable, available, and can be purchased cost effectively. It saves design time by streamlining the decision-making process, and improves design quality by allowing R&D teams to focus on design refinements rather than part selection. Like the design guidelines, this also is a living document. The new product introduction (NPI) engineering team is responsible for keeping it up to date, and that can be a challenge. A preferred part can become a non-preferred part overnight if, for example, the supplier discontinues the part. Keeping the list current in real time saves design cycles later in the process.


  1. Common components


When I started working at Hewlett-Packard in the early ‘80s, we had hundreds of 100-ohm resistors in our inventory.  Keysight has a handful. By using a common set of components across multiple product lines and platforms, we save time and money in much the same way that automotive manufacturers gain efficiencies by sharing parts across models. It can be a hard sell with R&D teams. Designers often have visibility into a range of parts for a given function, so they may know of a cheaper part than the one being recommended in the PPD or common component library. In some cases, the savings may look significant. My advice:  Hold the line and trust your database. Introducing a new part into inventory means setting up, managing, and supporting a new part number. If it’s a one-off part, it will have low usage and no economies from buying in volume. And adding a part affects how other parts are used, so you may reduce volume purchasing power and increase your unit cost on other parts. If and when you do add components, make sure they have application across multiple product lines and thoroughly evaluate the business case and related costs.


  1. Rapid prototyping process


When you’re developing a new product, R&D will have ideas they want to try, and will turn to manufacturing to build prototypes for testing. If R&D and manufacturing are in different time zones, you might burn a couple of weeks on each prototype to learn that a design is not quite right or an idea is not feasible; co-located teams can often find out in hours or minutes. Colocation not only speeds new designs into volume production but also improves the quality of your products since you can evaluate more ideas in the limited time you have. 


Integrating design and manufacturing has far-reaching cultural and operational implications. It requires a shift in thinking at the management level and a change in workflow for design and manufacturing teams. That may sound like a heavy lift, but as I tell my MBA students, the right tools make it easy. In any case, it’s a fact of life in our global economy. The business benefits of integrating design and manufacturing are undeniable, which is why nearly every company I talk to is heading in that direction.



PatHarper is Vice President at Keysight Technologies and an adjunct professor teaching global supply chain management in the Executive MBA program at Sonoma State University and Project Management in the Executive MBA program at the University of San Francisco.

I saw a recent LinkedIn study that says most millennials who graduate from college this year will work for four different companies in the first decade of their career. I’m guessing my MBA students are amused when I tell them that early in my career, many engineers not only worked for a single employer for ten years, we sometimes worked on a single product for ten years.


How times have changed. Today, manufacturers like Keysight go from product idea to first shipment in a matter of months. It’s the “and/and” world we all live in: today’s products have to meet strict time-to-market windows and be produced at the lowest possible cost and be extremely high quality. The students who ace my class know that the answers are found in the supply chain: Tear down the wall between design and manufacturing, and you can create a single integrated supply chain that allows you to move at warp speed. Here are three keys to making that happen.


1. Make it easy for R&D to do the right thing.

When I started my engineering career, it was common practice for R&D teams to complete a new product design, then “throw it over the wall” to manufacturing so the product could be built. Many companies continue to use that same siloed business model because they think that introducing manufacturing requirements into the design process slows things down. I’ve found the opposite to be true. When manufacturing issues are addressed early, delivery schedules are accelerated. Deep down, R&D teams know that designing for manufacturing is the right way to go, and they’re happy to do it—as long as there are tools in place that make it easy to create manufacturing-friendly designs. At Keysight, we found that the ideal toolset includes:

  • Design guidelines to reduce rework in manufacturing
  • A preferred parts database that allows known-good parts to be procured in volume
  • Common components that are shared across platforms, reducing integration time and maintenance costs
  • Rapid prototyping models that allow design ideas to be validated or abandoned quickly



2. Co-locate design and manufacturing.

I know what you’re thinking. Too expensive, right? What I’ve learned in my career and what we’ve proven at Keysight is that keeping design and manufacturing separate is actually more expensive than co-location. With separate teams in different time zones, small delays in communication can have a big impact downstream. The takeaway is that if you’re planning to design and introduce a major new product in Spain, it pays to have a New Product Introduction (NPI) manufacturing team co-located with the design team. Direct contact improves communication, so minor tweaks and course corrections can be discussed and implemented in real time. It keeps launch schedules on track, reduces overall product costs, and accelerates time to revenue.


3. Get senior management on board.

When I talk with customers about supply-chain optimization and the far-reaching cultural and operational shifts that come with it, I always get the same question. How do you get senior management buy in to something like this? It’s a fair question because of the misperceptions that exist around design for manufacturing (“slows us down”) and colocation (“too expensive”). The reality is that senior decision makers in every area of the company—whether R&D, manufacturing, test, or procurement—are focused on time, cost, and quality. Supply chain optimization touches all three. To prove it will work for your organization, identify a small project, find sponsors in R&D and manufacturing who are willing to do a test case, and track your results. When senior management sees the business case, they’ll get on board.


The business case at Keysight is compelling. Over the past five years, our integrated teams have cut annualized product failure rates by 50 percent, raised on-time arrival of new products to over 93 percent, achieved greater than 90 percent scheduling accuracy, and increased annual profit margins by reducing scrap, rework, and inventory. It’s a case study for how modern manufacturing can keep up with the disruptive pace of today’s technologies. It also makes a pretty good curriculum for the next crop of management executives who will soon occupy the C-suite.


Pat Harper is vice president and general manager at Keysight Technologies and an adjunct professor teaching global supply chain management in the Executive MBA program at Sonoma State University and Project Management in the Executive MBA program at the University of San Francisco. Read his bio.