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Women in Engineering

Book open Reading time: 6 mins

Hannah Peeler joined Arm Research in 2020, in her first full-time engineering role following internships at multiple organizations. Her role in Research sits in our Emerging Technologies group, and her work landscapes future technologies in the two-, five-, and ten-year timeframe. This helps Arm make informed decisions on research horizon technologies for the far future. Hannah is looking at practical applications for novel software algorithms in Arm’s sphere of influence, creating a proof of concept to evaluate how we can use evolutionary algorithms to benefit our work.

Ludmila Cherkasova has been working in the engineering world since the late 90s. When Ludmila first joined Arm Research in 2018, she was closely involved with Arm’s Internet of Things (IoT) activity, and worked on identifying the technology gaps, establishing research collaborations with academic institutions, and engaging with colleagues to work on problems related to Arm’s agenda. Today, she assesses the possible disruptions of emerging technologies on the ecosystem and beyond.

Wendy Elsasser started working full-time in engineering in 1997, following a series of internships throughout her education. Wendy also works in our Emerging Technologies group, with her role specifically involving interfacing with memory vendors and standards organizations, making an impact across the industry.

Lucy Gonzalez is one of our highly skilled Research Project Managers, and while she has been working with engineers for nearly four years, she has been involved in science and engineering work for much longer. Being a project manager is about managing resources and timelines, tracking progress and results, removing obstacles and minimizing risks. In a research context, project management also involves dealing with uncertainty, helping shape ideas into projects, and communicating effectively with stakeholders at different levels.

There is no ‘right’ path

There are so many paths to finding the right career – Some people may fall into the ‘right’ career – others may have known for years what they wanted to be or do. We might take a subject at school and unexpectedly love it, or accept a job that does not suit your passions. These steps, small or big, lead us closer to where we are supposed to be. Hannah joined the tech party a bit later than many engineers, not doing anything tech-related until her senior year in high school, where she took a Digital Electronics class at the recommendation of close friends.

“I was enraptured by hooking a circuit together myself to display my birthday on a little LCD screen. As I learned more about circuits and programming, I saw how much good you could do with something extremely challenging and fun to do. I got into The University of Texas at Austin for Electrical Engineering and the rest, as they say, is history!”

Ludmila and Wendy both followed in a relative’s footsteps, to some degree. Ludmila’s mother was a math professor which fueled her early interest in math, winning regional math Olympiads in high school. However, while clearly a natural, she felt that “Tech offers a broader set of interesting challenges to work on, compared to math”. Wendy echoes this sentiment, sharing that she “just landed here” by being good at math and science, with her father having a chemistry degree and working in the nuclear power industry. She wanted to pursue a career in a technical or scientific field, with her initial plan being to focus on software. Studying with friends in the electrical engineering department of her university, Wendy realized that she was more interested in what they were learning and eventually switched majors.

Lucy has a slightly different story. 

“My academic background is in humanities and social sciences, I never expected I’d end up in tech! I was always drawn to science and technology as objects of study; I am very interested in the ethical and societal aspects of science and engineering, and on the way we think about the work we do and how it impacts the world.” She demonstrates a prime example of how different backgrounds and skills can be of real benefit to the tech sector, giving colleagues an alternative perspective that can really drive project success.

Taking off the rose-tinted glasses and striking for change – together

It has been widely recognized that the industry needs to do more to support girls and women in STEM careers, and it is important to understand where some of the barriers are . Engineering has great opportunities and benefits, and it suits the curious mind perfectly. However, looking at the reality of the sector, it is a male-dominated environment that comes with its own challenges – largely the positive character-building challenges. Hannah, Lucy, and Wendy have all experienced discrimination or were treated differently for being a woman.

“In my education I did experience some cases of different treatment, including one standout case where I was on a project with someone who consistently belittled me and my technical choices, trying to make me feel foolish or lesser than himself.” Hannah Peeler.

“When I first started working full time [in a previous job] there was a push for diversity, with my company having quotas for women in certain positions. I often heard the phrase ‘she only got that job because she is a woman’. Though not directed at me, it still left an impression.” Wendy Elsasser.

“…not just in tech but in every sector, I have experienced sexism in many ways. From being addressed as “sweetie” to getting my own job explained to me.” Lucy Gonzalez.

Advocating for yourself indirectly leads to you advocating for other women, and allows others to learn from your experiences. Hannah set clear boundaries and responsibilities during her project, standing by her decisions, saying “ultimately, knowing and expressing your worth can work wonders for navigating situations like this”. Lucy had the feeling that most of us have, it is an uphill battle to speak up, and it can be uncomfortable, or seem career-limiting – is it really worth it? While it does not become ‘easier’, Lucy shared that she tries “to speak up and call people on their behavior. It has become easier as I have become more experienced both in terms of my career and life, but it is always a difficult thing to do.” Hindsight is 20:20, and Wendy initially did not do anything about the remarks she heard. “What I should have done, looking back, is to be a better advocate for my fellow women colleagues to dispute these claims.”

Despite some negative experiences, a role in engineering is very rewarding and has huge benefits. We asked our participants what they loved most about their jobs.

Listen, advocate, mentor

So, what can we do to support women in engineering, or those starting their careers? Unanimously, it was agreed that mentoring someone in their early career was the best way to support others.

There are so many lessons to be learnt in any career, and they largely come from challenging situations or mistakes made. Hannah encourages people to advocate for themselves, even if it feels scary or intimidating, and to say ‘yes’ to opportunities you don’t feel entirely qualified for; “your growth is up to you, and you have every right to fight for it”. Ludmila found a presentation to be her eye-opening moment, ‘The Top 10 Ways Women Shoot Themselves in the Foot in the Workplace’ by Nora Denzel – a lot can be learnt from it, and not just by women.

Wendy inspires you to “own your career. Management and mentors can help, and you certainly should use these resources. However, you need to be active in the process, defining your goals, going beyond current roles to enable new, relevant opportunities and make connections outside of your immediate world.” Lucy highlights the importance of flexibility: “As a project manager I want things to follow a plan; I want deadlines to be met, and I want processes to be followed. I have learned that if I can adapt and change the plan as the project progresses, my job is easier, and my team is more likely to succeed.”

Ending on a high, inspiring a path of progression

We can learn a lot from all of our colleagues, and surrounding yourself with people that believe in you and support you as a woman in STEM is integral – even if it is just to have a friendly face to turn to when you need it. The sky is the limit – continue to learn, be inquisitive, act as a role model for younger girls or women needing support, and take up the space. You have as much right to be there as anyone else.