I have been working in the semiconductor sector for over 25 years. It’s an industry I love, but there are of course challenges. Despite some progress in recent years, it is still a male-dominated environment, especially in senior engineering and leadership roles. So what can be done to help encourage more girls to study engineering, take up a career in engineering, and then progress to higher level positions?
According to WISE (Women Into Science and Engineering), an organisation that aims to champion gender parity in STEM, only 22% of engineering graduates and 11% of professional engineers are female. That’s an increase on the 7% of graduates and 3% of professionals 40 years ago, but there is still a very long way to go.
As we approach the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I spoke with a number of colleagues at Agile Analog to get their feedback on why they like working in engineering, what advice they would offer the next generation of aspiring female engineers, and suggestions on what could be done to try to increase the number of women starting and progressing in the semiconductor industry. I spoke with:
- Areeba Kamran: Analog Engineer
- Shukla Mahmood: Senior Software Engineer
- Mairead McManus: Senior Staff Analog Engineer
- Nicky Wilkinson: Senior Director, IP Delivery
What’s so great about a career in engineering?
I personally preferred science when I was at school. I liked numbers, experiments, building and pulling things apart. So, it’s not really a major surprise that I ended up studying engineering and then working for technology companies.
Shukla Mahmood had similar interests at school but didn’t know much about the variety of careers in engineering.
“I have had a passion for maths and science since I was young. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I discovered software engineering as a potential career path. There is not always one correct way of doing things, and it can be illuminating to see different perspectives,” explained Mahmood.
But what about electronics? According to Mairead McManus, what she enjoys is that, “Working in electronics often presents new challenges to overcome. This keeps day-to-day work both interesting and highly rewarding.”
Nicky Wilkinson agrees. “Engineering, for me, is a chance to understand and solve new challenges every day. It’s immensely satisfying when you find a solution.”
I too feel fortunate that my job is so fulfilling. I started out as a Design Engineer, before moving over to more commercial and then leadership roles. I find the semiconductor industry is such an interesting place to work. Over the last few decades semiconductors have advanced significantly and now we are seeing innovative electronic devices that are transforming everyday lives.
Amazing applications that span IoT, healthcare, automotive, AI, quantum computing. And there are semiconductor companies, like Agile Analog, working on ground-breaking technology that will have real impact across the globe.
Areeba Kamran agrees. "I believe science and electronics play an important role in bringing people closer together and saving lives. I want to contribute by working on new technology that helps to deliver the next generation of electronic devices.
What advice would you give to young female electronics engineers?
The best advice I can offer to young female engineers is: keep on challenging yourself. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. With the right support you can achieve much more than you expect. Engineering is an exciting career, as there are constant challenges and changes. Set yourself goals and embrace every opportunity to learn new things.
“Keep working hard,” says Mahmood. “I was lucky that the small handful of women on my engineering course really motivated and helped each other. To those starting their careers, don’t be afraid to make your voice heard, and share your ideas. Be prepared to stand up for yourself!”
Kamran adds, “Female electronics engineers have the ability to make a huge impact on the world. Don’t limit yourself. Don't be afraid to explore new avenues. Follow your dreams!”
McManus provides some really practical advice. “When at university I would recommend looking for work experience and summer placements or grab an opportunity to speak to someone in the industry to gain more insight into what roles are available to electronics engineers. When it’s your first job - ask questions and don’t be afraid to say you don’t understand something.”
Nicky Wilkinson reminds us not to let gender be the defining issue: “Don't let being female define you - you are first and foremost an engineer. Believe in yourself, believe in your abilities and always show others the respect you would like shown to you. A good engineer is just that - a good engineer - you!”
How can schools, universities and the semiconductor industry help to increase the number of female engineers?
It’s clear that the earlier in life we instil the message of equal opportunities the better.
Wilkinson says, “I believe that encouraging women into engineering happens when they are bought up in a home, school and university environment where the focus is on equal opportunities rather than traditional gender roles. If we could achieve this in society that would be for the benefit of everyone.”
Unfortunately, it’s not been an easy road and there is still some way to go.
“When I was at school, you could count the number of physics/IT female students on one hand,” says Mahmood. “Girls were encouraged to study other subjects, and the biggest reason enrolment into engineering courses was low was because we didn’t know it was an option for us.” She adds, “More schools need to involve engineering companies at their careers fairs.”
Mahmood agrees interaction is important. “Female students should attend open days to meet with engineers and explore what options are available for them.”
McManus also feels that greater awareness is key. “Increasing the visibility of female electronics engineers can contribute to more girls choosing this career path. It has become a bit easier in recent times through social media, but at university/school careers talks I think it’s important to show that there are already women in the industry, and they are willing to talk about their experiences.”
I too would like to urge more female engineers to come forward and share their experiences at STEM, career and industry events. We need role models to inspire the younger generation. It is also important to support each other and to empower more women to take on leadership roles. Representation of women in senior positions is still extremely low in semiconductor companies.
That’s why I got involved in the GSA (Global Semiconductor Alliance) Women's Leadership Initiative and joined the GSA EMEA Women's Leadership Council. Our goal is to help build a strong community of women that offers mentoring and support and calls for equal opportunities. The first GSA Women’s Leadership Initiative EMEA event will take place in London on March 13th - the Women in Semiconductors Conference – as part of the GSA International Semiconductor Conference.
Today, there are a lot of different challenges in our society – the global economic downturn, environmental disasters and geopolitical turmoil. So debates about gender roles and equal opportunities may not seem like the priority at the moment. But addressing the issue of diversity could in fact form part of the solution.
If men and women work more closely and as equals, perhaps we could solve more of the challenges that we are facing more quickly.