WHAT’S NEXT FOR WOMEN IN TECHNOLOGY?

12 May

tech on desk

By Lisa Gillette-Martin

Hidden Figures, the best-selling book and recent hit movie about the contributions to the U.S. space program made by three female African-American mathematicians – or “computers,” as they were called, for their ability to  hand-calculate complex equations that allowed astronauts to safely travel to space – has rightly widened interest in the roles that women can play in the high-tech arena. It’s also caused some to seek out further information on women who’ve had an impact on technology developments.

Scientific American publishes an annual list of women in science and technology who’ve passed away in the previous year, bringing new awareness of their work to those who may not have known of it previously – I encourage you to read the full piece to learn about these brilliant women – many of whom were outspoken advocates for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Examples of those memorialized in 2016 include much-honored Canadian physicist Ursula Franklin, who used her expertise in material science and engineering to co-develop the science of archaeometry (applying scientific methods to analyze archaeological materials); Ruth Hubbard, a Harvard biologist best known for her work in the biochemistry of vision, i.e., illuminating how the eyes turn light into information; and Irish biotechnologist Jemma Redmond, a pioneer in 3-D bioprinting, which uses a specialized 3-D printer to create living, tissue-like groupings of cells suitable for organ repair and transplantation. In early 2016, her startup firm Ourobotics won the influential Silicon Valley Open Doors Europe competition.

Speaking of Silicon Valley, those of us who live and work here and in other technology hubs are well aware that far more women are working in technical roles than was the case 20 or even 10 years ago – walking a tradeshow floor is a very different, and far less daunting, experience these days! And more schools, supported by corporations and non-profits, are emphasizing STEM programs than ever before. In 2016, Dartmouth graduated more female than male engineers, while such schools as Northeastern, Tufts, and Sweet Briar – to name a few – are making efforts to close the STEM gap.

However, there is still work to do in securing the female tech leaders of the future. A recent Microsoft survey of young European women between the ages of 11 and 30 revealed that, at 11, girls are excited by STEM subjects, but by the time they reach 15, that interest has waned. Another survey, part of a joint effort by Accenture and Girls Who Code, indicates that, while junior-high/middle-school girls are more likely to be interested in computer coding, once they reach high school, they become less likely to express the same level of interest.

How to address this issue? Key strategies: promote, and increase mentoring by, female role models working in STEM-related areas.

The Society for Information Display (SID) is doing its part with respect to promotion by hosting its first-ever “Women in Tech” forum on Wednesday, May 24, at 4:00 p.m. at the Los Angeles Convention Center, in conjunction with the annual Display Week conference. The forum will comprise a diverse panel of women leaders from industry, government and academia providing attendees a glimpse of the insights these experts have garnered through their experiences in the tech world.

Moderating the event will be Rashmi Rao, senior director, advanced engineering for leading automotive electronics supplier HARMAN International. The panelists (whose responsibilities and backgrounds can be found at the link above) will include:

  • Niaz Abdolrahim, assistant professor, mechanical engineering and materials science, University of Rochester
  • Julie Brown, senior VP and CTO, Universal Display Corporation
  • Candice Brown Elliott, CEO, Nouvoyance, Inc
  • Heidi Dohse, VP, product execution, DTI Holdings
  • Laura Rea, senior technology program manager, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory

This event promises to be a highlight of Display Week, which runs from May 21-26 – if you haven’t already registered, you can sign up here. Don’t miss your chance to contribute to the global conversation about broadening roles and attitudes for women in STEM fields.

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