WIE: Changing Skill Set

Nov 29, 2018 | Posted by: Sherry Hess

I recently participated in a panel at EDI CON USA, where we discussed “Skills Employers Will Want in 2020.” The inspiration for this panel came from a recent study by the World Economic Forum (WEF) revealing that employers will not only look at the core skills necessary as an engineer but also communications skills – the ability to communicate your ideas with others and to get along as a team.

In this blog I’m sharing a few of the discussion points that resonated well with me.

As VP of marketing for a large tech company and being in the industry for over 20 years, do you and if so how do you see change happening with corporate hiring initiatives?

I like to call myself an outgoing nerd, and as such most early managers I worked for said that I’d be a natural for sales and marketing.  Today, however, I don’t see that same assumption being applied to new college grads with an engineering background.  With a greater focus on diversity of people and skills for filling technical roles across the spectrum of departments in a high-tech firm, I see change happening as I write this blog. 

Regardless, I credit millennials in large part for changing the needs of what they want from a career/job to accelerate a necessary change in the tech industry where collaboration and empathy, as well as technical abilities, are all being valued as equally important skills to possess.  You even see this in the college application process now where the pure testing score is not the only criteria for admission and ultimate success.  And credit also goes to big firms like Intel, who launched a diversity challenge several years ago now to raise awareness of the need to change who we hire in tech and is also doing something about it.

On the thought thread of diversity, how do we develop strong, diverse teams?

I look for a mix of skills across team members. While we all possess multiple skills, a team should have a healthy mix of all the skills covered by the WEF (problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others’ emotional intelligence, judgment and decision making, and service orientation) and then the manager must ensure that each team member has the opportunity to contribute.  Ideas need to be heard and nurtured.  For many cultures and personalities, speaking up is not necessarily a natural state and so we must ensure we make all team members feel comfortable and confident to join the conversation. Great ideas trapped inside someone’s gray matter do absolutely no good to anyone.

From my own experiences, why has engineering been a largely male-dominated field and what can we do to close the gap?

From my own experiences - both from a career trajectory as well as from raising a wonderful daughter – I have become more aware of the societal pressures in that at an early age, girls who are very capable in STEM are persuaded by outside messaging to pursue other non-STEM careers. It may also be inherent that the “E” in STEM is not tapping into the making the world a better place.  I had a female engineering intern not long ago who told me she only wants to work for a green tech firm, so she can make the world a better place.  Of course, we can change the messaging to which we expose these young ladies and that is happening. However, in the very near term I’ve been involved in shining a spotlight on female role models for younger girls and women to know exist, to ask questions of, and perhaps emulate.  The recent movie 'Hidden Figures' is an excellent example and has impact. To close the gap, we can’t have this type of messaging be a “one off” every few years. It needs to become a regular/normal narrative.

This topic and the panelists at EDI CON USA turned out to be a winning combination.  The crowd (both male and female) remained for the full hour and engaged in meaningful dialogue as well.  

If you’ve liked this blog series and the thoughts shared, keep following me in upcoming issues of High-Frequency Electronics, where I’ll speak in more depth on women in engineering (WIE) inspirational material.