Advice on Gender Diversity and Inclusion from the Trenches

Advice on Gender Diversity and Inclusion from the Trenches

From the semiconductor industry panels on gender diversity and inclusion and networking receptions to casual lunches and one-on-one interviews, I’ve been listening to women of all levels of experience talk about what brought them to pursue careers in microelectronics and semiconductors. The stories are as varied as the women telling them. In this two-part series, we hear from three women in leadership roles, two who work in the industry, and two who are just embarking on their journey. Here, they discuss their own personal stories and their thoughts on gender diversity and inclusion.

Maria Marced, President, TSMC Europe

Maria Marced, president, TSMC Europe

“We have a saying in Spain, that to be a complete person, one has to write a book, plant a tree, and have a child,” said Marced, during the Talent, Diversity, and Inclusion Panel at SEMICON Europa 2018. “I wanted to do all three, so I decided to become an engineer.”

Marced recalls when things were worse for women in engineering than they are today, yet still, she persevered. In Valencia, she was told during an interview at Ford Motor Company that she had to be able to carry heavy things and that there were no women’s toilets.

So she stayed in Madrid and went to work for IBM printers instead. That lead to an R&D role at Telefonica, Spain’s largest telecommunications company. From there, she went to Intel to be a field service engineer and was notably Intel’s first female failure analysis engineer worldwide.

She spent 19 years in her “marketing dream job” in Munich, as VP and EMEA manager at Intel. That led senior VP sales and marketing roles at NXP in Amsterdam, and ultimately to her current role as president of TSMC Europe.

Some of her secrets of success:

  • Choose the right partner in a husband.
  • Have good role models: From Andy Grove, Intel, she learned never to be complacent, and always raise the bar. From TSMC’s Morris Chang, she learned the importance of integrity and commitment.
  • Feel your own destiny: be responsible for your achievements.

How does she foster innovation and diversity? “If you expect everyone to think like you, you are failing,” she said. “I want to hear different opinions and points of view, and this is only possible with diversity.” She says if a man and a woman have the same skills and capability, she always chooses the woman.

Of the old adage, a woman has to work twice as hard as a man to be half as good, she doesn’t necessarily agree. In the semiconductor industry, women have the advantage of standing out in the crowd, even if they don’t want to. Failures and achievements are more obvious. If you fail, everyone will notice. If you succeed, people will also notice, she said.

Françoise Chombard, CEO Melexis

Françoise Chombard, CEO, Melexis

Françoise Chombard created her own destiny by co-founding a global fabless company with two men. Neither an engineer nor a man, she is nevertheless the CEO of Belgium-based Melexis, a leader in automotive sensor technologies.

Diversity and inclusion are ingrained into the very fabric of Melexis, and is one of its biggest success factors, says Chombard. One-third of the company are women. Of the ten-person executive team, four are women, and 60% of its board are women. “It was lucky that my two co-founders agreed that you need the power of passion and diversity to build a community that is crafting insanely great products,” she said. Additionally, she said close to 33% are millennials, which is also good for innovation.

Chombard says personally, her journey has not been easy, although it’s been wonderful. During her 30-year professional career, she was also busy raising three children, twin daughters and a son, now 28 and 26, respectively.

“I’ve been a fierce advocate of gender diversity probably since birth,” she said. “I’m an advocate for more women in STEM. I believe we can close this gender gap in less than a generation if we can get more girls interested in STEM. There is a high demand and a shortage. It’s good for women and good for companies.” She added that if we go on the way we are today, it will be 200 years before its closed.

Chombard issued a call to action. “It’s common knowledge that more diversity leads to better work culture and more innovation, but it’s still not common practice.” She said. “You have a choice. You can be a catalyst for diversity at any time.”

Does unconscious bias hold us back? “Totally. It’s not a woman’s problem. It’s an unconscious bias that resides in all of us,” said Chombard. “We give our children too many subliminal messages. We’re hindering our own development.”

She said she thinks it’s more evident in women in the west than in the east. “We feel we’re not ready to take a challenge if we don’t have 80% of the requirements fulfilled,” she said. “Men run at it if they only have 50% fulfilled.”

To change this bias, she says we need to recalibrate by boosting women up and pushing men down more. We can also effect change by mentoring others, both men and women, to seek a better work-life balance. Too many men reach retirement age wishing they had spent more time with their kids, while women wish they’d had a chance at a professional career.

“We (women) have had a lot of privilege to be able to study. We need to give that back to society by being more than just a good mother,” said Chombard.

Susan Weiher, Director TD, GLOBALFOUNDRIES Fab 1, GLOBALFOUNDRIES

Susan Weiher, Director TD, GLOBALFOUNDRIES Fab 1, GLOBALFOUNDRIES

Australian-born Susan Weiher has divided her life between the US, where she was educated, and Germany, where she has spent the last 23 years of her engineering career.

Recalling her schooling in the US, she said the gender gap in STEM there is much more noticeable beyond elementary and high school, were girls and boys tend to be equally proficient in STEM classes. By the time she was studying engineering, only 10-15% of her classmates were women.

“It leaves an impression. You want to be competitive but you’re now in the minority,” she said. Diverting young women into STEM education is the first step to improving the ratio. It’s also important to be supportive of young women starting their careers.

She attributes the underrepresentation of women in leadership in the industry to a lack of encouragement during school, where women are advised to take an easier path.

Bias can’t be a crutch, said Weiher. She says women aren’t always embraced for being different, and that can be a challenge. She advises to not lose self-confidence. Stand up for yourself and focus on delivering results. Fine-tune your natural collaborative skills.

Weiher describes the semiconductor industry as “brutal” with no gap for failure. It’s highly competitive and you’re often under tremendous pressure. But she says she’s happy that she chose to be part of this exciting industry because she learns something new every day.

“You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and be ready to build bridges,” she said.

 Lunch Talk WIth Mumtaz Bora and Edith Elyasi

After listening to women in leadership at various panels talk about their paths to success, I thought about all the other women who choose semiconductor career paths. What about them? How did they end up in this male-dominated industry? What challenges do they face? Here are two short stories that came from a lunch discussion during lunch at the IMAPS International Symposium in Pasadena.

Mumtaz Bora, senior staff packaging engineer pSemi

Mumtaz Bora, a senior packaging engineer at pSemi, got her BS in chemistry in India with her eye on going into medicine. She came to the US and worked in a hospital lab, where she quickly realized growth opportunities were slim. So she entered the electronics industry, working on circuit board technology at IBM. Like other women I spoke with, she realized the opportunity for growth was better in the electronics industry. From circuit boards, she moved into various roles as a quality assurance engineer at Kyocera Wireless in San Diego. Her full story is featured in an interview with RF Globalnet.

Edith Elyasi, adjunct professor at Glendale Community College

And then there’s Edith Elyasi, adjunct professor at Glendale Community College, Glendale CA. Originally from Iran, Edith came to the US for college and then got her citizenship. She holds both a BS and MS in electrical engineering from Cal State Northridge, where she also worked as a teacher’s assistant and research assistant.

Edith made her entry into the industry as a test engineer for DPA Components International, located in Simi Valley, CA, where she programmed Teradyne test machines and was a final reviewer for projects from Sandia Labs. Her job was made obsolete when the older test technology couldn’t support high-performance parts, she explained.

She also spent time at a medical device manufacturer, Abbot, where she worked to improve designs for pacemaker modules and performed software validation. She recently returned to academia at Glendale Community College, where she oversees the engineering and electronics curriculums and is an advisor for STEM students. In her role, she has the opportunity to observe trends of students career paths.

She says that while overall, there are more men enrolled in the engineering and electronics programs, there are more women pursuing BS degrees, while the associate’s degree technician programs are full of men becoming certified for construction jobs. Her advice to attract more women into STEM careers?  Offer more scholarships. Students are hungry, and they will follow the money.

In Part 2 of this series, we hear from two young women who decided early to pursue careers in electronics, thanks to robotics club. They also offer ideas on how and when to entice more young women to the industry. Stay tuned.  ~ FvT