Meet the female pioneers of engineering: part 1 #nwed2016 #RaisingProfiles @nwed1919


Sophie Curtis, marketing director at RE*WORK has a post and interview with 4 high profile women engineers including Adafruit’s Limor Fried, celebrating National Women in Engineering Day

As an all-female team, RE•WORK are strong advocates on supporting women in technology and science, so we’re celebrating today by talking to female pioneers in the field about ensuring equality, future breakthroughs, encouraging others to become engineers and more.

The day was set up by the Women’s Engineering Society and is dedicated to raising the profile and celebrating the achievements of women in engineering. By encouraging girls into engineering careers we will not only increase diversity and inclusion, but also enabling us to fill the substantial future job opportunities that have been predicted in this sector.
Get involved with the day and share inspiring women in engineering that you know or admire by using #NWED2016
Limor Fried is Founder and Engineer at AdaFruit, a company she created to establish the best place online for learning electronics and making the best designed products for makers of all ages and skill levels. This month the White House honored her in their Champions of Change for her commitment to building both innovation and community, and creating resources for learning.

Sarah Ostadabbas is Assistant Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering at Northeastern University, and recently formed the Small Data/Decision Support (SDDS) Laboratory to enhance human information-processing capabilities through the design of adaptive interfaces via physical, physiological and cognitive state estimation.

Michal Segalov leads groups of engineers at Google Play, focusing on apps and games discovery. She won the Anita Borg Institute Social Impact award for her work on the co-initiated Mind The Gap program, aimed at encouraging girls to learn computer science and math, which has expanded globally with more than 10,000 participants to date.

Helen Wollaston is Chief Executive of WISE, a campaign created to increase the participation, contribution and success of girls and women in STEM, from classroom to boardroom. Prior to WISE, Helen gained extensive experience in promoting female talent, including directing campaigns for the Equal Opportunities Commission and her own consultancy Equal to the Occasion.

What inspired or motivated you to begin your work in engineering?

Limor: Working in engineering is about solving problems together. One of the first times I remember thinking I’d be an engineer was when I was about 7 or 8 I saw a bunch of balloons stuck to the ceiling at a local mall after an event, no one could reach them so I went home and constructed a mechanical arm with my Dad. After going back, getting on his shoulders and using the balloon catcher device we made we retrieved all the balloons and gave them to others who also wanted balloons.

Michal: Growing up, I never actually thought about engineering or computer science as a career path for me; I really liked art and painting so I thought more of a career in architecture. I also really liked math, puzzles and riddles. However, I never realized that computer science was solving math problems and puzzles every day. I thought it was super geeky and missed out on how creative it was! I remember my parents trying (and failing) to convince me to pick up some programing skills. At 18, things shifted. I found myself being forced into a programing course. This is when I realized this is what I wanted to do. Ever since, I’ve been learning and working in CS, enjoying every minute! 

How can we encourage more women and girls to work in engineering?

Limor: We like to say “we are what we celebrate” – how can we get others in the spotlight who are doing great work? How can print magazines, tv, online sites, social media networks and more celebrate the diversity in engineering that is there but often overlooked or ignored? What we all need to do is lift each other up on each other’s shoulders more. 

 Michal: Be out there. Be visible. Act as a role model and spread the word. In your organization, and in your community. It’s important for young women and girls to see role models they can identify with. Show the world the diversity in CS and engineering. Diversity is important not only because it’s fair– studies show that diverse teams build better products and diverse companies have better financial performance. We need to be proactive about the underrepresentation of women and minorities in CS and engineering, it is not going to solve itself.

 Helen: WISE looked at the evidence on this question for Network Rail a couple of years ago. We identified a conflict between how most teenage girls see themselves – the type of person they are – and their perception of the type of person who is a scientist or engineer. This identity conflict leads them to the conclusion that science and engineering is not for them and explains why despite many years of initiatives to encourage girls to work in engineering, it is still seen as an unusual choice of career for a woman in the UK. Our People Like Me campaign uses a fresh approach. In a 45 minute session for girls, they start by picking adjectives which best describe themselves – words like “friendly”, “organised” or “creative”. Their choices determine which “type” they are, they get a list of jobs which suit people of this type and are introduced to role models just like them doing an exciting and interesting job using science, maths or technology. Feedback from girls, teachers, parents and role models has been very positive. “A fabulous, innovative way to get girls thinking outside the box in terms of future careers” – Angie Baker, physics teacher. Since launching the original pack in September 2015, we have done spin off packs for Digital, Electronics, Physics as well as for individual companies such as Babcock International and Network Rail. These packs are free to download from the WISE site because we want them to be used far and wide. We offer expert training to take people through the theory behind the campaign and explain how to make the most of these resources to add value to science, technology and engineering outreach and engagement programmes.

The campaign opens girls’ eyes to a whole new world of possibilities. We are always on the look-out for different role models. If you want to help, why not nominate yourself or a colleague for a WISE Award? The aim of the Awards is to identify new role models and champions to work with us to inspire others to follow in their footsteps. As well of course as being a great way to boost your own career profile and extend your network. Please help us to spread the word before the 8 July closing date for nominations.

Read the full interview here.

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1 Comment

  1. Scott Richmond

    Two thumbs up up to the rainbow Adafruit logo! I am a nuclear engineer with two adult daughters and I am very proud of, and I am very supportive of Adafruit and its inclusive tendencies and promotion of science and engineering for EVERYONE.

    Thank you Limor! Thank you Adafruit! Keep it up, when you wake and look in the mirror… its not just just you reflected, its all of us. And we love what you are doing!

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