Shining a Spotlight on Female Engineers

IEEE Women in Engineering aims to raise awareness and close gender gap

8 March 2013

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Did you know that the person widely recognized as the first computer programmer was a woman?

Ada Lovelace was known for her work on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general­-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Her notes on it include what is now recognized as the first computer algorithm.

And another woman, Grace Hopper, developed the concept of a compiler in the late 1940s and early 1950s while working at Remington Rand, which became part of Sperry Rand Corp. in 1955.

Despite their technical achievements through the years, however, women represent only about 10 percent of engineers in the workplace—a figure that has held steady for years.

IEEE Women in Engineering is working hard to increase that percentage and bring greater public awareness of women’s contributions. It now has 14 000* members, one third of them men.

Gearing up to celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2014, WIE has been especially active. Last year it established a scholarship, launched a public visibility campaign, developed an app for tablets that spotlights the work of female engineers who are IEEE members, posted videos of its activities on IEEE.tv, and partnered with Google to hold an outreach event. Be on the lookout for more WIE activities this year.

“These efforts support WIE’s core mission of recognizing outstanding achievements and providing a vibrant, engaged community for women in IEEE,” says Nita Patel, chair of the 2013 IEEE WIE Committee. “WIE has taken a leap in the past year to help promote the achievements of women across IEEE.”

GREATER VISIBILITY
To spotlight the work of female engineers, WIE in September rolled out a visibility campaign, with the catchphrase “I Change the World. I Am an Engineer.” The campaign features online chats with prominent WIE members as well as posters highlighting successful female engineers who are IEEE members. The posters were hung at engineering schools as well as in preuniversity classrooms.

In September and October, the group held weekly online chats with viewers of the live video streaming website UStream, many of whom were students. IEEE Fellow Karen Panetta and Senior Member Ramalatha Marimuthu spoke about what it’s like to be an engineer and answered viewers’ questions in real time.

Other speakers included IEEE Senior Member Maria Cristina Dias Tavares, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Campinas, in Brazil, and IEEE Member Teresa Schofield, an electronics engineer and chair of the IEEE United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland Section WIE affinity group.

Each chat drew almost 100 participants and added 29 000 new “likes” to WIE’s Facebook page, which promoted the online chats and included links to the videos.

And WIE has been spreading the word about female engineers’ accomplishments through the “I Change the World. I Am an Engineer” app, launched in January. Available for Android and Apple tablets, the app features profiles of more than 80 women (some are pictured above). Each profile includes a biography, information about the engineer’s career, and a photo. An e-book version, featuring interactive PDFs, is also available.

partnering with google
To build support for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, WIE partnered with Google to hold an event on 23 and 24 January at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. “Enhancing the Sustainability of Women in Technology” drew about 200 attendees, many of them women working in the field. Speakers included several female Google employees, who covered a variety of technical topics such as fault-tolerant computing, data analysis, and Google’s cloud computing applications.

Panetta, the event’s program cochair, is the mastermind behind Nerd Girls, a program at Tufts University, in Medford, Mass., that seeks to dispel the stereotype of geeky engineers. Panetta is a professor of electrical engineering at the university and former chair of the IEEE WIE Committee, which functions as the organization’s board of directors.

Marimuthu, the event’s cochair and 2011 and 2012 chair of the WIE Committee, discussed the importance of applying innovative research to solve real-world problems. Marimuthu is no stranger to such work. When she’s not busy heading the department of information technology at Kumaraguru College of Technology, in Coimbatore, India, she works on developing early screening systems to detect autism and other disorders in children.

Miche Baker-Harvey, a software engineer at Google, laid out the secrets to landing a dream job. She covered interviewing skills, résumé writing, and leadership traits.

Other presentations focused on being a role model, the difficulties of balancing personal life with work, and how IEEE student branches can organize Student Professional Awareness Conferences. These conferences address a technical topic and bring in IEEE members and other experts to provide career advice and discuss the benefits of IEEE membership.

SCHOLARSHIP
WIE has teamed up with TechSearch International, a licensing and consulting firm in Austin, Texas, to offer an annual US $2500 scholarship to a female college engineering student. Established in November, the IEEE Frances B. Hugle Engineering Scholarship was developed with TechSearch’s founder Jan Vardaman. Hugle, a pioneer in the invention of tape-automated bonding, used in the manufacture of ICs, held 16 electronics patents.

WIE plans to award the scholarship this year to a female IEEE student member in her third year of undergraduate study at an accredited university or college in the United States. If you’re interested in donating to the scholarship fund, visit the IEEE Foundation Web page and select the Frances B. Hugle Memorial Fund.

As WIE prepares for its 20th anniversary, upcoming activities include launching a WIE channel on IEEE.tv, organizing webinars with IEEE Educational Activities, holding more live chats on UStream, and redesigning the WIE website to make it more user-friendly. The IEEE.tv channel will show videos of WIE members and events. The webinars, to be available in the IEEE eLearning Library, will feature WIE members discussing their areas of expertise.

“I look forward to continuing to engage our members in industry, provide resources for our members in academia, and inspire students to go into engineering,” Patel says. “I am so happy to be a part of this world-changing organization of men and women focused on technology for the benefit of humanity

 

*This article has been corrected from the print version.

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