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Women's Technology

How can you create balance between your work and personal lives? What are the best ways to attract girls and young women to the engineering field? Can women succeed in male-dominated professions?

These and other questions were addressed on 22 and 23 March, when the third annual "Global Marathon For, By and About Women in Engineering" took place online, over the phone, on video, and in person from locations worldwide. The 24-hour marathon was created by the National Engineers Week Foundation and coincided with Women's History Month in the United States. It was sponsored by Lenovo and Verizon Business.

The event attracted hundreds of participants from more than a dozen countries, and offered more than 50 sessions highlighting opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for women in many countries.

A number of sessions focused on or discussed the role of women in engineering, a field traditionally filled by men.

"Sometimes, you might be the only woman in the room. And that's fine. You get used to it," said Elizabeth Alwin, Sr. Network Engineer, Verizon Business, as part of the 23 March session, "Four Women and a Leading-Edge Network". "You may have the perception that when they're listening to you, you're not being taken seriously. You may need to go above and beyond sometimes so you make sure you learn everything you need for your job, so when you are talking or making presentations, you need to know what you are talking about."

Lynn Z. Linn, Executive Director of Global Infrastructure Services for Lenovo IT, felt that women have greater potential in technology fields because they stand out from the crowd. "Women [are] more likely to be remembered for good performance," she said during her presentation, "Is Engineering a field that prevents women from being successful?", on 23 March.

A listener in one session asked why there are fewer women in engineering management. "That will change the more women enter the profession and as men meet more women in their profession earlier in their careers," answered Ruth Shelley, Vice President of Silicon Design Engineering, AMD, during a 23 March talk on diversity in the workplace.

Throughout the 24-hour Global Marathon, presenters and listeners ruminated on the life of a working mother.

"It is a challenge," said Judith Spitz, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Verizon Business. Addressing three high-school science students during the Global Marathon's closing session, she advised "You have to figure out where to draw the lines between how much you want to work and how much you want to be at home. Wherever that line is, wherever you're comfortable with it, that's where you should draw it. There's no wrong answer."

"There's no real silver bullet for this work-life balance," said Nan Mattai, Sr. VP, Engineering & Technology, Rockwell Collins, during her 22 March session about college and career strategies. "Everyone has got different circumstances. You've got dual-career families. You've got single parents. You've got people taking care of their aging parents. Everyone has different commitments taking up their time. As I moved up the career ladder I realized that there are some times I have going to have to give 90% to my time to work and then there are other times I have going to have to give 90% to personal life, to my family, and what's really important is that flexibility and adaptability to whatever the priorities are."

"Helping girls into the profession is more important than it ever was," said Frances O'Sullivan, co-chair of the marathon and senior vice president of the Product Group at Lenovo Group Ltd. "It's like a marketing problem," she said, explaining why she agreed to participate in the event. "If you aren’t aware [of the profession], you're not considering [it]. It's a fun job If you like to feel things, if you like to say that you worked on something, it's tangible, you can see it. I think we need more technical people, period."

During the Marathon's kick-off session, co-chair Sally Ride discussed how girls need to be encouraged to stay involved in science and technology. "Girls don't get less smart," said Ride, President and CEO of Sally Ride Science. "Once you know you're good at science and technology and like it, the more likely you are to stay with it."

In her 22 March presentation, "The Supergirl Dilemma: Girls Grapple with the Mounting Pressure of Expectations," Heather Johnston Nicholson, Ph.D., Director of Research for Girls Incorporated, offered several tips for how adults can support girls, including: listen to what girls have to say; empower them to set priorities and make smart choices; and learn about and spread the work about stereotypes and their consequences. "A lot of girls hear that their main job is to please everyone," said Nicholson. "That sets up undoable conflicts."

Other topics addressed during the 24-hour event included making the transition from school to career; the pressure of expectations; ways female engineers can set themselves apart in their profession; and the importance of creativity and interpersonal skills in engineering.

Want to hear more about what the speakers at the Global Marathon had to say? Most of the sessions were recorded and archived online, and can be replayed in MP3 audio or full video. Supporting materials such as PowerPoint presentations and a career guide are also available for download.

About The Author

John R. Platt is an award-winning author and marketing consultant.

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