About 6 weeks ago, I attended the NAFEMS Multiphysics and Multiscale conference in Columbus, Ohio, USA. I have witnessed the benefits women in tech bring to their companies and themselves and make a habit of counting how many women are at these events. I am excited when the number of women exceeds 10% of the attendees. This event did not quite meet that benchmark. Most conferences I attend in the simulation space do not. As a woman in tech with a keen interest in increasing the number of women in engineering and technology as well as promoting and supporting those already there, I find this disheartening.
We know we continue to lose girls and women at every step along the path from young child to seasoned engineering professional. And we know that technology leaders such as Apple CEO Tim Cook say that the “US will lose its leadership in technology’ unless more women are hired”. Low percentages of women among conference attendees are a visible reminder of these articles and where we stand with women in tech today.
It was not all-sad news for women at the NAFEMS conference though. Although women made up less than 10% of attendees, they were more than 10% of the presenters. The women that were in attendance presented, participated, and made contributions to the conference larger than their size. I suspect these same women make strong contributions relative others within their organizations and companies although they may not be recognized for it.
While I was at the NAFEMS Multiphysics and Multiscale meeting, I chatted with some of the other ladies in attendance and with the meeting organizers about women in tech, women in simulation, and, women in NAFEMS, in particular. NAFEMS is an organization made up of volunteers from simulation vendors, companies using simulation, and universities. Some of these people are women. I was wondering if a NAFEMS network for women to discuss gender issues around being a women in tech and support each other was possible. Since then, I have connected with several women involved with NAFEMS leadership or working groups. We are thinking about Women in NAFEMS (WIN) and what we may do to support the growth and development of women in tech and simulation from within the NAFEMS network.
Women leave tech companies at twice the rate of men because of working conditions, work-life integration, not liking their work, and organizational climates. Most of these women don’t stop working. They switch to other fields and technology companies lose out. A 2016 Peterson Institute for International Economic report found that “Women’s presence in corporate leadership is positively correlated with firm characteristics such as size. The results find no impact of board gender quotas on firm performance, but they suggest that the payoffs of policies that facilitate women rising through the corporate ranks more broadly could be significant.” The study indicated that retaining and building women leaders internally is likely more significant that just filling seats on the board with women. The reasons are complex but the diverse views and skills that women can add at all levels of the organization is likely at least partially responsible.
What are technology companies to do? Recommendations include measuring data around women in tech including employee retention, especially women, awareness training, support networks, mentoring programs, flexible work arrangements and more. Is your technology company working to attract and retain women? Is it effective? Should it do more? Comment below.
The 2017 NAFEMS World Congress is fast approaching. I will be in Stockholm June 11-14 to learn about what is new in the world of simulation. We’ll hear about what is on the minds of industrial users of simulation, and talk with engineers and simulation experts about multiphysics simulations, simulation trends, how they are using ANSYS to solve their problems.
I am looking forward to meeting with the NAFEMS Multiphysics Working Group and our customers that will be in attendance. I will also be watching and counting the number of women I see, noting the role they are playing at the congress and thinking about women in tech. If you are also at the 2017 NAFEMS World Congress, stop by the ANSYS booth to chat about these topics and look for opportunities to interact with Women In NAFEMS while you are there.