Thursday, March 19, 2015

Women in tech: Meet the trailblazers of STEM equality

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals are drivers of innovation,creativity and invention. STEM disciplines are significant drivers of economies worldwide, and STEM careers are rewarding and fulfilling. The promise of STEM is therefore important for economies and individuals; however, in most countries around the world, we do not have STEM professionals that reflect the gender makeup of our population.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I share more information on the issue and potential solutions. I also profile women technology trailblazers who have made significant contributions to STEM and our global society.

There are over 316 million people in the U.S.; 49.2 percent male and 50.8 percent female, according to the U.S. Census. While women currently hold more than 51.6 percent of all professional occupations in the U.S., only 26.7 percent are in computing-related occupations.

Companies with employees from diverse backgrounds tend to be more creative and profitable. A large body of evidence exists to substantiate this assertion. Diverse collaborative teams leverage a broader perspective of experiences and ideas. They create more innovative products and services that appeal to a wider, global audience.

Sadly, there are many factors that enable gender bias in STEM disciplines. Some include socialization for girls, subtle biases in school and at work, and how women approach the workplace. For example, women tend to downplay their skills and are sometimes challenged by salary discussions. A recent Yale University study found that men and women tend to subconsciously chose men over women with the same skills. In addition, when women are chosen, they are offered lowered salaries than the men.

There are many solutions to this complex issue, including educating the workforce on these subtle biases, developing and participating in pre-college outreach programs, providing mentoring, coaching and other support and having access to visible role models. For example, a few years ago a friend shared with me that his daughter did not believe successful women engineers exist. I invited her, her parents and several of my STEM girlfriends over for lunch. We spent the afternoon sharing, encouraging and inspiring. Years later, this young lady is still excited about that lunch and is planning to become a future engineer.

Here are five technology trailblazers who walk among us. They have made valuable contributions to our global society and provide inspiration for many. We honor them as innovative women who have changed the world.

  • Maria Azua, Ph.D.  is the Global Head of Infrastructure Engineering at Barclays. Prior to this role she held several technical leadership and executive positions at IBM. She is an author and inventor with 99 issued and pending patents. She is a member of the Women in Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame.
  • Nancy Jackson, the Manager, International Chemical Threat Reduction Department at Sandia National Laboratories, and currently on sabbatical at the United States Department of State. She works with scientists around the world to help volatile regions manage their chemical inventories and secure their chemicals. Dr. Jackson is a Fellow of the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
  • Shawna Lemon, Ph.D. is a shareholder with Myers Bigel Sibley & Sajovec, P.A., a full-service intellectual property firm. She is a scientist and a patent attorney with a focus on biotechnology. Dr. Lemon has been included in The Best Lawyers in America® (2015) and Business North Carolina’s Legal Elite (2014).
  • Joan Mitchell, Ph.D. is a leading developer of image compression methods and co-inventor of jpeg. She is the co-editor of the jpeg standard, is co-author of the definitive jpeg textbook, and co-author of a book on mpeg. She has over 110 patents and dozens more pending. Dr. Mitchell is a retired IBM Fellow, a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.
  • Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, Ph.D. is the Founder and CEO of Drawbridge, a startup company that provides technology-based marketing services for mobile devices. She was previously the Lead Scientist with AdMob, which has been acquired by Google. Dr. Sivaramakrishnan’s work is onboard New Horizons, NASA’s spacecraft heading towards Pluto and beyond.
I invite you to reach out to young ladies and encourage them to pursue STEM disciplines or to participate in mentoring and coaching programs. You may start with the IEEE Women in Engineering, the Society of Women Engineers or Women in Technology International.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 3/18/2015 to clarify the number of issued and pending patents by Maria Azua, Ph.D.

( This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. To learn more about tech news and analysis visit Tech Page One. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.)

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