Seven who’ve made a difference

Celebrating women who bridge the STEM gap

By Janice Blondeau

While women account for 41% of the workforce(1) worldwide, when it comes to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers, they hold less than 25% of positions in the US(2) and only 13% in the UK(3), with similar trends around the world.

 

On International Women’s Day, the IEC celebrated the outstanding leadership shown by some key women in electrotechnical standardization and conformity assessment. At the same time it called for moves to encourage more women into STEM careers.

girl school
It's key to highlight successful role models, and increase the interest in and take-up of STEM

At the helm of IECQ

Marie-Elisabeth d'Ornano, from France, has been Chairman of IECQ (IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components) since 1 January 2014. D’Ornano’s first experience with conformity assessment (CA) was when she started working in LCIE, a subsidiary of BUREAU VERITAS in 2005. The core activity of LCIE is the assessment and certification of electrical products and electronics.

“This experience was so interesting that I'm still working in LCIE and as Certification Director completely involved within the field of CA.

It’s up to you

“My advice is to be flexible and open minded and as the innovation in this field is permanent, they will have to be able to make the link between very mature field and new technology.

“Yes it's a "man’s" world but it's up to women to enter this field. The opportunities are real and the possibilities are wide. Women have their place within this field and can bring a lot. So don't be shy and try it – I'm pretty sure that you'll find it interesting and challenging enough to make a career in this field.”

Marine energy pioneer

Melanie Nadeau, Senior Manager, Sustainability, Emera, Canada, is one of the pioneers in marine energy. In 2006, Nadeau was involved in discussions with several other countries around the need to develop standards for marine energy technologies.  Standards were seen as necessary to ensure that technologies would be able to enter the global market. Later that year, Nadeau became Chair of the newlyformed IEC Technical Committee (TC) 114: Marine energy - Wave, tidal and other water current converters.  In 2010, she led a Conformity Assessment Board (CAB) Working Group for conformity assessment of marine energy.

In the committees that I have been with, there was underrepresentation from women. Often I was the only woman in the room. This does need to change and we do need to start seeing more women getting involved.  I believe diversity better informs conversations and leads to better decisions.   My advice to any woman considering working in standardization would be to get involved, be confident, ensure your voice is heard and don’t be afraid to raise your hand.

Increasing awareness at universities

“I think there needs to be dedicated effort to attract more women to work in the field of standardization.  It probably starts with having conversations in universities to inform women of the work that the IEC does and what opportunities working on standards can provide. 

“Women-specific programs could help to encourage more involvement.  The use of female champions who can serve as role models could help to demonstrate that there is a culture of openness and diversity in the world of standardization.”

From fibre optics to Thomas Edison Award

Elaina M. Finger holds the position of Global Standards Process Coordinator, Corning Incorporated. She is also Assistant Secretary of IEC Subcommittee (SC) 86C: Fibre optic systems and active devices, since 2002 and Assistant Secretary of IEC TC 86: Fibre optics, since 2003. Finger received the 2014 Thomas A. Edison Award in recognition of her support of IEC standardization work, actions in collaboration, knowledge sharing, training, teaching and proactive work across many fronts.

Almost 18 years ago, Finger accepted a position in Corning Incorporated’s Standards Engineering Department. The job encompassed many of the skills she had acquired in variety of industries – finance, education and international trade – and offered her the opportunity to gain others.  

Well-suited to standardization work

“Historically, standardization has been a male-dominated field, but I see more women getting involved at each meeting I attend. Yes, worldwide attitudes have changed, but it is more than that. Without generalizing too much, I think women are well-suited to standardization work because they tend to be good collaborators with the ability to transcend cultural differences and the drive to bring projects to successful completion.

“My advice is to become involved and take on high level positions within technical committees where they will have an opportunity to make powerful contributions to industry.

A wealth of opportunities await

“Electrotechnical standardization is a rapidly expanding field that offers women the opportunity to employ not only their technical expertise, but to acquire the skills necessary for advancement in the business world. As participants in the standards process, women become talented negotiators, striving to achieve consensus in a multi-cultural environment.

“At standards meetings, they will meet with many other experts in their particular field, who offer unique perspectives and collaborate to find good solutions that affect global industry as well as everyday consumers. The networking opportunities are endless! In addition to career enhancement, working in standards gives women a chance to travel the world, experience a multitude of cultures and form life-long friendships.”

Leading a National Committee

Dr. Bronwyn Evans, an electrical engineer, is Chief Executive Officer of Standards Australia. Evans’s career in standardization started in 1997 as a Project Manager in the Electrotechnology Division at Standards Australia. She had just completed a PhD in Electrical Engineering and the role seemed to be an excellent transition from a research role to later commercial roles.

The electrotechnology sector is our future. Whether it is sustainable energy systems, smart grids, smart meters, smart cities, sensor technology or electric vehicles – electrotechnology is critical for making our cities livable in the future. Having standards that enable this transformation is vital.

 “So my advice for women wanting to work in electrotechnology standardization is to “just do it”. Be part of shaping and engineering a better tomorrow. If that means getting additional qualifications, again, I would say “just do it”.

 To encourage and inspire more women and girls to work in this fascinating and vital area we need to highlight successful role models, and increase the interest in and take-up of STEM subjects for all students but most especially girls. We also need to use social media for communications – be different, be relevant and be engaging.”

HV and power capacitor career

Dr Hebbale Narasimhaiah Nagamani is Chair of IEC TC 33: Power capacitors and their applications. She is an electrical engineer from India with a long and varied career as a researcher and technical expert. Nagamani joined Central Power Research Institute (CPRI), Bangalore, India, in 1981. Since the day she joined CPRI, Nagamani was associated with the laboratories for power cables and capacitors. The laboratories are endowed with excellent high voltage testing & research facilities.

“Testing of electrical equipment as per international and regional standards was a matter of great challenge and interest to me as it gave a wide exposure, in particular, to interpretation of standards.  As the only lady in my lab and with traditional Indian attire (saree), it was a great challenge to work in a HV voltage laboratory complying with HV safety requirement. I enjoyed my profession as I received a great support from my men colleagues.

Leading TC 33

“My involvement in standardization began from the time I was a young researcher and test engineer in CPRI. I was appointed as the Chairperson of Indian National Committee for power capacitors in 2008 and as Chairperson to IEC TC 33 from April 2014. This I consider as recognition to my contribution, as a professional – of course gender was not a factor.

“Standardization is not taught much in schools or universities. Exposure to standardization work happens mainly in testing and certification and calibration laboratories and in manufacturing companies.

“According to me the basic quality required to succeed in the field of standardization is the skill to interpret standards. Therefore, my advice to other women wanting to work in electrotechnical standardization is to develop this skill at the early stage of your career.

Success linked to respect

“More role models to encourage more women and girls in this area. Greater awareness of the importance and impact of standardization. I just want to mention here that in Indian mythology, it is quoted that “Success prevails at places where women are respected.”

Smart Grids and Smart Cities

Manyphay Viengkham has contributed significantly to global Smart Grid rollout and is now involved in Smart Cities as USNC representative to the IEC SEG (Systems Evaluation Group) 1: Smart Cities. From the United States, she holds the post of Client Implementation Manager at General Electric – Power & Water. Viengkham started working with standards as a consumer very early in her career as a system integrator, where standards are critical in building interoperable systems, especially for complex systems.

Systems thinking

“It was in 2011 that I jumped over the fence and worked directly with IEC through the USNC on the Smart Grid initiatives, which was very exciting for me. Applying my systems engineering methodologies expertise I help build what is now the IEC Smart Grid Standards Map.

I currently am the USNC representative to the IEC SEG 1: Smart Cities where I continue to provide my systems thinking expertise.  

As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, would say “Lean In”, I too would give the same advice to ladies across the electrotechnical standardization community.  “Lean in” and sit at the table with your fellow male peers, voice your perspective and thoughts on matters to help drive IEC into the future. Be bold to build the relationships, network with your peers, share with them the value you bring to the organization. “Lean in” and pull in your fellow female peers to help build their confidence at the table too.

Lean in and bring in your peers

“I can’t express how important it is for women leaders to “Lean in” at the table with confidence. Women hold only a small number of seats but don’t let the statistics scare you away.  We have domain knowledge, industry experience, unique perspective that creates a tremendous amount of value to the electrotechnical standardization.  Knowledge and inputs that can build a stronger organization and future for all things that standardization touches.

I believe this starts with being a role model ourselves to help pave the road for the next generation of girls who want to be more involved in standard organizations.  As trail blazers we need to grind the path and recruit other fellow female members to follow along in the journey. 

Mentors and sponsors are key

“It’s a journey that requires us to be engaged in local educational communities that will encourage girls in the field of science and engineering and nourish their confidence; to be mentors and sponsors for young female professionals and find opportunities for them to practice and apply their potential; to knock down barriers within the organization and build a healthy culture to embrace diversity.”

Young Professional Leader

Thahirah Jalal was awarded 2014 Young Engineer of the Year, in New Zealand, and was subsequently selected as one of the three 2014 IEC Young Professional Leaders. She co-leads the asset intelligence team at Unison Networks Limited, New Zealand.

Jalal started working with standards by using them actively for development work in the area of smart grid and big data in 2011. She finds the IEC Standards an excellent starting point in development work because the Technical Committees have gone through a rigorous process of sifting and collating through many theoretical developments in research and academia and incorporate them in a single document.

2014 IEC Young Professional Leader

However, she wasn’t aware of New Zealand’s role in the IEC until she won the Young Engineer of the Year awarded by the Electricity Engineers’ Association in June 2014. One of the award’s prizes was to represent New Zealand as an IEC Young Professional in Tokyo in November 2014.

“Prior to the YP workshop, I met up with the New Zealand National Committee and got introduced to the key committee members. I also met other New Zealand’s representatives in Tokyo who were chairing technical committees.

“The YP workshop became my gateway to participate further in local IEC activities. In Tokyo, I was also privileged to have been elected as one of the YP Leaders for 2014 and became the first New Zealander to do so. This achievement made the National Committee so proud and they are keen to support my contribution to IEC. In April I hope to discuss my ideas on how to set up a YP programme in New Zealand. I also look forward to participate in the relevant Technical Committees that will benefit my company and country.

Speak up to your NC

If any woman is interested in electrotechnical standardization, she should start voicing her interest to the National Committee to the IEC as soon as possible. Usually, women only step up to a task after a lot of consideration which could take years of contemplation. But in this case, being involved means having the opportunity to learn.  In time, the learning will be translated into useful experience and it will help in increasing future involvements in the area.

Empowerment starts at home

I believe that the best way to empower women in this area is to start at home. I grew up under a conservative Asian culture which sidelines women and it had a big effect on my confidence until my university years. It was difficult to outgrow feelings of insecurity especially while working in a male-dominated industry. However, intellects are not confined to males only. Girls who show prowess in maths and science should be encouraged by their families to grow their interest and skills. The world is constantly changing and we should embrace positive changes for the benefit of future generations.”

1. Mercer’s When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive research 2014 more.

2. Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation D. Beede, U.S. Department of Commerce, 2011

3. http://www.wisecampaign.org.uk/files/useruploads/files/wise_2012_stats_summary.pdf

Gallery
Celebrating women in STEM Top l to r: Marie-Elisabeth d'Ornano, Melanie Nadeau, Elaina M. Finger, Front l to r: HN Nagamani, Bronwyn Evans, Manyphay Viengkham
girl school It's key to highlight successful role models, and increase the interest in and take-up of STEM
Young Professionals Workshop ...(science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects.Thahirah Jalal, one of three 2014 IEC YPP Leaders