Building a Legacy of Empowerment for Women Engineers

Aug 9, 2018 | Posted by: Sherry Hess

I recently sat on the panel for the NIWeek 2018 Women’s Leadership Forum, which was moderated by Eric Starkloff, Executive Vice President, Global Sales & Marketing for NI and included, along with myself representing NI, Dr. Sharon Wood, Dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin, and Dr. Irene Petrick, Director Industrial Innovation, Intel. The title of the panel was “Building a Legacy of Empowerment and Maximized Innovations,” and the goals were to provide different perspectives into how leaders navigate diversity and career high/lows, showcase how organizations support diversity and empowerment, and provide insight into the importance of how we keep building toward greater innovation.

My preparation for this panel included some thorough soul searching to organize my thoughts on how I work to encourage diversity and build empowerment for women within my company and throughout the IEEE organization. In this series of blogs I’ll share my thoughts in hopes that women engineers throughout the world who follow my writings and WIE activites will be encouraged to enter/remain in a STEM career.

I started my advocacy efforts by raising my hand at an IEEE event and asking to learn more about the society’s Women in Microwave Engineering (WIM) efforts.  After having attended several WIM networking cocktail parties at IMS and noticing how small and under promoted they were, I decided it was time to get more involved in empowering women in engineering.

This quickly led to me being asked to chair the next WIM event at IMS 2010 in Anaheim, California.   What was once held in the dark corners of a meeting room within a convention center has since grown into a half-day session with keynotes, technical talks, panel discussions, and an evening reception for networking and camaraderie. 

I now co-chair and sit on panels for women in engineering events worldwide. Little did I realize that my first hand raise would take me to co-chair WIM on behalf of the Microwave Theory and Technique society for the past eight years, have me speaking in Japan, China, Israel, and India (to mention just a few), and would also result in my thoughts making their way onto the world-wide web via blogs and article bylines.

My group within NI has historically been supportive of my efforts to become more involved in IEEE in general and also with championing the cause of women in engineering through my involvement in WIE events.  In fact, at that first WIM event I chaired in 2010, all of my co-workers arrived to support me. 

My participation on panels and writing contributed articles and blogs has continued to encourage women to network and become involved in women’s events.  In fact, just a month ago, I received a business email from an NI employee in India.  As part of the email p.s.  the person (a lady) wrote how much she enjoyed my articles/blogs and that she looks forward to reading them to help her feel empowered as a woman in engineering.

What’s been common throughout is that by sharing my own experience whether in person or online, results in a response back with me by both men and women.  The conversations just flow from there on how to encourage more women into tech, keep women in tech, advance women in tech, and more.  By being seen and lending my own experiences and a sympathetic ear, I am moving the conversation forward by first raising awareness and secondly starting discussions in which women can feel like they are not alone in this industry. They walk away feeling connected to others just like them and empowered to make a difference.

I believe my career is defined not only by my technical abilities but also as a visionary to see the big picture in the business world and to inspire myself and other women in particular to drive for more.  As Sheryl Sandberg says in her book, “lean in,” and empower women to achieve their full potential.