The Power of Barbie

I posted early last year about the new Computer Engineering Barbie…and I finally got mine! She sits in my cubicle…as you can see by the picture.

Now I must say a part of me was a little disappointed in computer engineering Barbie.  I expected a little too much out of her.  I expected her not to be stereotypical, to be cool, and to make me proud.  Well, she was just very Barbie.  All her accessories are pink, except her bluetooth which is blue. (I wanted to call up Mattel and let them know that just because it is called a blue tooth, it does not have to be blue 🙂 )  She has a picture of Ken in her “cubicle”/ desk area represented in the box.  She is wearing sparkly leggings.  Unfortunately Barbie just doesn’t look like much like a computer engineer.  She looks like Barbie dressed up as the concept of a computer engineer- just trying too hard.

I was disappointed until just last week…

A co-worker brought his 6 year old daughter in to work.  She wanted to see my Barbie.  She held Barbie and immediately exclaimed “She’s so pretty!”  For at least 15 minutes, she held Barbie, open and closed her laptop, investigated the time on her watch, and read her iphone display.  Every other sentence was “She is so pretty” and “I want to be pretty just like her” and then finally “I want to be a computer engineer”.  It was at that moment, I was sold.  Mattel was onto something here.  We DID need a computer engineering Barbie.

So she is stereotypical Barbie…she got a 6 year old to want to be her….a computer engineer…and that’s just what we need!

Does Norway Have it Right?

I’m going to start this by saying I do not like quotas..they make my cringe.  I believe that they are too singular in enforcing a somewhat arbitrary rule.  The market should really be the ultimate say in getting the right people in the right jobs.  By promoting diversity companies promote innovation and as a result, should get better products, more profit, and happier employees and share holders.

That said, I think what Norway is doing is certainly interesting and thought provoking.  Norway instituted a quota requiring that women hold at least 40% of board seats at publicly owned companies (and that men hold at least 40%).

The law was put into place in 2008.  In 2002 boards had only 6% representation, today they have more than 40% (according to the Norwegian Institute for Social Research) and the number of women board members in Norway has doubled.

Here are two good summary stories:

Boardroom Revolution by Time and To Quota or Not to Quota by JUMP

Reading these articles makes me think about diversity quotas in the US.  Many are not mandatory, but I do know that companies push for certain levels of gender diversity and cultural diversity across teams.  It is always a sore point of conversation with many of the men I work with.  They believe it is unfair to give an advantage because of gender.  I agree.  However, I think of the voluntary quotas or “expectations” as more of a foot in the door.  In my own experience, the expectations help ensure that you start with a diverse pool of candidates.  It rarely means that the best person for the job is not chosen.  That is certainly the way I believe it should work too.

I wonder if this Norway quota will eventually have the impact that Title IX did here in the US.  (Title IX is a law enacted in 1972 that reads: ” No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”  It is most known for its impact in women’s sports, but it has played a key role getting women into engineering too.  I think the law has overall had a very positive impact and made a large difference in the past 30+ years.  If you polled young women today, none of them would think twice about not having a women’s basketball team, soccer team, or girls in technology classes.

Perhaps it’ll take Norway another decade before we can really look at the results and draw some conclusions.  The early ones show that there are certainly more women on boards.  But it did not change the number of women CEOs or women in executive committees.   Sixty percent of male board members questioned for the research said there had been “no major changes to board operations” since the law took effect, but that they had seen some improvements: “more discussions” and “new perspectives”.  Those last few quotes seem to highlight that the presence of these women has not been enough to raise company profits and prove that having them is a huge market advantage. Then again, the world works at a glacier pace sometimes…It may take another decade to see the difference.

The Engineering Bond, and a Tribute

I’ve never been in the military, but I know some people who have and I’ve watched a few military based movies.  I know one of the basics for any young person entering the armed forces is to attend a boot camp where they wear you out physically and emotionally, forcing you to find your limits and also work with your fellow brethren, suffering by your side, to make it through alive.

I feel a very similar boot camp occurs in engineering school- only our lasts for 4 years and doesn’t require 100 pushup or a 5k run. (thankfully!- otherwise I may have never made it out).

The field of engineering came out of the military – civil engineers being the first.  As you might say the acorn did not fall far from the tree.

It’s not to say that this is completely a bad thing.  I am sure anyone having gone through military boot camp would say it was the hardest thing he or she had ever done.  That they learned perseverance and determination they never knew they had.  That they worked in teams to accomplish impossible tasks. (and probably that they found muscles they never knew they had either!)  If I surveyed various engineers, most would say something very similar.  Going through engineering school was hard.  There were long nights in labs with stinky lab partners, projects to complete with impossible deadlines, tests that seemed to require magical formulas you had never memorized, and rows of sleepless days where even a coffee IV didn’t seem to make you alert.

Looking back at it now, I have a fondness for that time.  Yes it was hard.  There was a singular focus to it that seems lost to me now in the working world.  I now have time and money to do whatever I want- pursue hobbies, cook, travel.  Yet I miss the camaraderie built with your fellow engineers when you’re just trying to help everyone stay sane, stay awake, and pass the class.

I formed a special bond with several fellow engineers throughout my time in school.  They were partners for projects, lab partners for a semester, problem set buddies who divvied up homework assignments with me.  Some I may not keep in contact with anymore, but if I ran into them again, the bond would still be there.  We shared a moment in time.  We helped each other through a struggle that neither of us could have done without the other.

The world lost one such friend a few months ago.  Yulin Wang went through the electrical engineering school at Cornell with me.  She had a quiet fierceness and a great sense of humor during those long nights.  She was super smart.  Whenever we were stuck and frustrated, she’d breathe, laugh, remind us of the deadline, and keep plugging along.  She never spoke poorly of anyone- even when the rest of us were complaining about a fellow student or a professor, she found the good.  Yulin found a job she loved at Applied Materials in Sunnyvale.  I ran into her at an alumni event a few years after we graduated and she was just as graceful, fun, and kind as ever.  I’m privileged to have shared so many great memories in my four years with her.

-In loving memory of Yulin Wang-

Design Squad

Each year I do several engineering outreach events…going to schools and talking about engineering or leading various students through engineering projects.  I am constantly trolling the web for new ideas.  One of my favorite resources is the design squad.  I just got a email about some great new references they have.

I thought I’d share.  Enjoy!

You may notice something’s different if you go to the Design Squad Web site today. Design Squad has become Design Squad Nation!

Premiering January 26th, Design Squad Nation sends engineer hosts Judy and Adam across the nation and around the world to help kids fulfill their dreams through engineering. Whether it’s building a playground for kids in a rural village in Nicaragua, helping an aspiring pastry chef assemble a cake with moving parts for the cast party of Young Frankenstein, or constructing a human-powered flying machine, Design Squad Nation shows kids that if they can dream it, they can build it!

But don’t worry, all the resources you’ve relied on throughout the first three seasons of Design Squad are still available. In fact the Parents, Educators & Engineers section now has all of our resources organized by topic to make it easier for you to sort through!

We also have a few new features we’re excited to share with you:

  • Our educators’ blog is a place for adults to find resources, share ideas, become inspired, and engage with us and others. We’ll provide tips on using Design Squad Nation, as well as insight into other engineering resources.
  • The kids’ blog is the place for kids to find the latest and greatest engineering videos, pictures, and stories from around the globe.
  • Our DIY videos show Judy and Adam demonstrating possible solutions to some of our hands-on activities and encouraging kids to try those activities themselves.

Check out our new web site to see all the ways Design Squad Nation can help spark kids’ interest in engineering.

SWE’s 60th Anniversary

It is amazing to think that SWE (the Society of Women Engineers) has been around for 60 years…and also amazing to think it is still needed after being around for 60 years.

Having been a leader in the Society for over 10 years now, I certainly appreciate the amount of work it takes to “move the needle”.  I think that while there have been amazing strides made in the progress of women in engineering careers, we are no where near the founders thought we’d be after 60 years.

Encouraging youth pursue engineering engineering and “STEM” (Science Technology Engineering and Math, as it has been dubbed by politicians) is just as important now as it was then.  In fact the number of women in engineering has pretty much remained steady for the mast 30 years…there is still much SWE work left to change that.

In honor of the anniversary, I am sharing a tribute to SWE from President Obama.

A SWE Tribute from Obama

Be Comfortable Being Known

A good friend and someone I mentor stopped by yesterday to say hi.  She was excited to tell me that her organization had recently re-org’d and she was put on a new team putting her higher up in the management chain.

As soon as she delivered the news, she immediately said, “but I’m really nervous.”

Why?  Because the director of the new team had met with her and told her that he had been following some of the great engineering work she had been doing and he was very excited to have her as part of his team.  She was worried that she wouldn’t live up to his expectations.

I know how she feels.  In the women engineering community, we’ve knick named this, the imposter syndrome.  It’s that feeling that others believe you are better and more capable than you believe you are.  That worry that as you rise up the ranks and gain responsibility, you’ll be found out.

It’s just your mind playing tricks.  Most of us have worked extra hard to succeed where we are the minority.  We’ve chosen this path because we are driven and are our own harshest critics.  It makes us very successful (but also self-doubters).

I told her she really is that good.  She’ll be infinitely more successful than her peers because she’s known and is continuing to work hard to succeed.  Be comfortable in having those higher-ups recognize your good work!

Just be careful not to burn out in striving for success….

Back from Hiatus…and some thoughts on Excuses

After much too log, I’m jumping back on the blogging band wagon.

Why the long lag?  I can offer a whole host of excuses…I moved, my job got busy,  my travel picked up, I had to help my great aunt…

The truth is, it’s a long list of excuses that boils down to me prioritizing other things over this blog.  As soon as I stopped, it stopped being a habit, and I let up on the discipline.  I told myself it was ok if I didn’t get a post out today, I’d do it tomorrow…and tomorrow…and next week.

After a month of not posting, the guilt really set in.  And it seemed monumental to start again- I had let down my regular readers…my next post better be a really good one…all those “should have’s” flooded my mind.

I never thought of blogging as being like a diet or exercise, but it’s actually pretty similar.  If you are used to doing it and do so on a regular basis, it’s easy to keep up.  As soon as you stop for any prolonged amount of time, you need sheer will power…or a boost from someone else to start again.

My boost?  Those of you who kept asking when I’d get my next post up, and being asked to lead a session at a conference tomorrow on Blogging Do’s and Don’ts.