#iLookLikeAnEngineer: Breaking down gender stereotypes in tech

Earlier this month a recruitment ad in San Francisco depicting Isis Wenger, an engineer at the company OneLogin, spurred a great deal of controversy over social media about the perception of females in tech. The result? A movement seeking to break down gender stereotypes in tech. Interested in hearing different perspectives, I caught up with a few of Nuance’s talented female engineers to get their take.
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Female Nuance engineers share stories about combatting gender stereotypes in the tech industry

Earlier this month a recruitment ad in San Francisco depicting Isis Wenger, a female engineer at the company OneLogin, spurred a great deal of controversy over social media. What surprised Isis is that commenters claimed they didn’t believe the ad featured a real engineer or that she didn’t accurately portray what typical engineers look like in real life. The result? A movement seeking to break down gender stereotypes in tech. Using the hashtag #iLookLikeAnEngineer, thousands of women have tweeted and posted pictures of themselves along with a description of their role in the engineering field, sending a clear message that a person’s gender does not dictate a mold that you have to fit into, or even the career path you choose.

San Francisco tech ad challenges gender inequality in tech

 

This movement got me thinking about how important diversity is in the workplace. We don’t want engineers to fit into the “cookie-cutter mold” (to quote Isis). Why? Diversity in opinions, looks, ideas, backgrounds and experiences fuel innovation. And in a high tech company, generating new ideas and discovering better solutions is pretty important.

Tech has a reputation for being a male-dominated space, and that can make it difficult for women to advance, let alone break in. As a result, some of the largest companies in the world have made pledges stating they are dedicated to growing and empowering their female workforce, and even so, an imbalance still exists.

Interested in hearing different perspectives, I caught up with a few of Nuance’s talented female engineers to get their take.

 

Nuance engineersMeet Karin Lin

Natural Language Understanding Research Engineer

What made you want to pursue a career in this field?

My doctoral dissertation was in the field of computational materials science.  I realized that I didn’t like the slow pace of academic research, but I loved programming. Since then, I’ve worked as a software engineer in electronic design automation, aerospace science, educational technology and robotics. I finally found my dream job at Nuance, combining my technical training with my great love for languages.

What does it mean to you to be a female engineer?

That depends a lot on the culture of my environment. I’ve worked places where I experienced sexism or just a sense of not fitting in.  I’ve worked places where I feel like my gender doesn’t matter at all. I’ve worked places where I feel like my gender matters, in a good way. When I was younger I was very conscious of representing women, feeling like every mistake I made or emotion I showed would exacerbate negative stereotypes. Now, I think the best thing I can do for women is to find a job I love and do it well. My 10- and 12-year-old daughters take it for granted that women can be scientists or engineers. The younger one is learning Python and we have great conversations about programming!

Are there any unique strengths you think female engineers bring to the innovation community?

A spirit of collaboration is the biggest one. Despite what we see in movies, the model of a solitary genius working alone to develop something amazing is pretty unrealistic. It’s sharing of ideas and mutual learning that lead to innovation. Also, diversity of all types is a key ingredient for success. Women engineers are a part of that diversity and can help foster an environment in which other kinds of differences are valued.

What inspires you?

In general, I’m inspired by people who take risks and make sacrifices to create a better world.  I’m also inspired by people who are very good at what they do, but have humility and know that there’s always more to learn.

Anything else you would like to share?

I’m very happy with my experience as a woman engineer at Nuance. All the managers I’ve had, and in fact almost all of the people I’ve worked with, have a lot of consciousness around cultural and social differences and everyone works together to make sure we all have what we need to succeed. It’s encouraging to see so many women in high-level technical positions. Even when I’ve been the only woman on a team, I feel like my colleagues fully respect me and are eager to understand my experiences. Perhaps this is because we’re a global, communications-oriented company. I think we’d see more retention of women in tech if all workplaces were this great!

 

Meet Laurie Kubik Nuance engineers

Senior Installation Software Engineer, Dragon

What does it mean to you to be a female engineer?

I’ve never paid too much attention to the male versus female differences in my job, other than being outnumbered. It’s much more important how your brain works, how well you work and communicate with your co-workers, and your ability to meet deadlines. When my children were younger, my husband would take an equal role – whether it was picking up the kids from daycare, staying home when they had a fever, or bringing them to work and sleeping under my desk when they just weren’t feeling too well. Male or female, it didn’t make any difference. 

What did you want to be when you were younger?

Out of high school, I knew I was destined for software engineering, with more interest in applications software where I get to interact with the end users.  I have good math skills and I’m detail oriented.  Honestly, I would have loved to have been a travel agent because I’m fascinated by other places, people and life style, but anyone can be their own travel agent with the web.

Are there any unique strengths you think female engineers bring to the innovation community?

I think strengths lie within each individual and it doesn’t make a difference male or female.

 

nuance engineersMeet Anushree Venkatesh

Senior Speech Scientist, Devices Connected Solutions

What made you want to pursue a career in this field?

My dad is an engineer and my mom is a science teacher, and growing up, math, science and logic were my favorite subjects. It also helped that I was pretty good at them 🙂 . Engineering thus, was a natural choice. Around the time I was graduating from high school, mobile phones were becoming the new cool thing, with form factors shrinking and all sorts of innovative technology. I knew I wanted to be associated with what brought about these changes; I wanted to be associated with technology.

What does it mean to you to be a female engineer?

I come from a country where there are a lot of female engineers, especially in technology! Surprisingly though – in one of the most advanced countries in the world – that is not the case. Being a female engineer to me today in the U.S., means breaking the stereotypes. The female engineer of today can be – and is – anything she wants to be. There is no one-size fits all.

Are there any unique strengths you think female engineers bring to the innovation community?

The biggest contribution I feel women bring to the innovation community is empathy and the inherent ability to put themselves in various roles at various levels, thus allowing them to design and engineer a better experience for their end users.

What advice would you give to other females looking to start a career in the tech industry?

Don’t wait to be recognized – which *may happen* eventually – but go out there and create opportunities for yourself, or if something does come along, grab it with both hands. Believe in yourself!

 

The response to #iLookLikeAnEngineer has been amazing – both inside Nuance and out – and it’s long overdue, Wenger also points out.

At Nuance, we have held focus groups, one-on-one interviews and even launched a group for women throughout the company to connect, network, learn, share experiences, and discuss women’s common interest initiatives in the workplace and beyond. This group seeks to inspire, support and encourage women by providing mentor opportunities, creating awareness, facilitating discussion for all employees and harnessing organizational diversity to the greater benefit of the workplace. The industry has come a long way, but I’m proud to work at a company that celebrates women and is working toward a more balanced and accepting future.

To stay involved, sign up on Isis Wenger’s new site: http://www.ilooklikeanengineer.com/

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Meredith Mascolo

About Meredith Mascolo

As a Senior Technical Program Manager on the Engineering Excellence team, Meredith provides opportunities for Nuance technologists to collaborate, innovate, learn and engage across divisions. She is the editor-in-chief of the internal team blog, Utterances, which highlights technical topics such as leadership, programming, research, Nuance case studies and more. Meredith received a B.M. in music education from Oberlin Conservatory and a M.S. in Administrative Studies, Innovation and Technology from Boston University. She is a classically trained violinist who enjoys playing in bands (Dave Aaronoff and the Protagonists) as well as solo for yoga classes. She loves reading, cooking and yoga.