High-Tech Women Strengthen the Electronics Industry
Including women in tech workplaces increases innovation, operations, and profits. Organizations like Women in Electronics are working to close the gender gap.
Despite years of conversation about the value women bring to the technology fields, men continue to significantly outnumber women in software, hardware, education, and leadership roles. Women represent 47% of all employed adults in the U.S. But according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), they represented only 26% of workers in computing roles in 2019, which is down from 31% in 1991. Additionally, they leave their jobs at twice the rate men do, representing a huge brain drain for the companies they leave. Numerous efforts are underway to improve the participation and retention of women in technology workplaces. At the earliest education levels, organizations such as FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) encourage girls to take part in STEM activities. Public awareness has risen about the significant role women have played in computing history, including the six female programmers behind the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) used during World War II and the Black women mathematicians and programmers who contributed to NASA’s early spaceflight successes, which reinforces the potential women have to excel in technology roles. However, the gender gap remains wide in the technical fields, from early educational opportunities to the executive level. Organizations — including ones that focus specifically on electronics components — are working to change that by supporting the career development of women.
“We have both men and women coming to the table to solve these problems, because all the data supports the positive impact including women in tech-based workplaces has on operations and profits. Cultivating a diverse workforce results in competitive strength, increased innovation, and greater efficiency, productivity, and profits. Companies are paying attention to this because profits are directly impacted. A lot of decision-makers are realizing that the inclusion aspect actually impacts the bottom line,” said Jackie Mattox, founder of Women in Electronics (WE), a non-profit founded in 2017 to support the career development of women working in the electronics industry. The organization is supported by several sponsor companies from the connector world, including AVX, Amphenol, Arrow Electronics, Avnet, Digi-Key Electronics, TE Connectivity, and the TTI family of companies.
“Although we are focused on helping women become a part of electronics companies, what we do benefits everyone, and men are an essential part of our work and programming,” says Mattox. “I believe there’s a stigma associated with the idea of a women’s association. Some men may worry that if more women come in, they may have to give up their position. And that’s not true. We’re trying to educate people into more of a growth mindset: As more women come in, it just expands the opportunities for everyone, because as women advance in companies, the industry does better. The data overwhelmingly supports the benefits of supporting women’s involvement in the industry. The more inclusion you get, the more diversity you get in your organization, the more the profits grow. After people get to know how we approach things, a lot of the men in particular get really on board.”
Women in Electronics supports the career development of women at every level in electronics companies. “Our membership serves every position in the channel. You could be an inside salesperson, a product manager, an engineer, a vice president of sales, a director — we’ve got a couple of factory workers in our membership. The content applies to everyone who cares about their professional development,” said Mattox. The organization would like to support women all the way to the top levels, which Mattox acknowledges is a continuing challenge. “Only about 15% of people at the decision-making levels of the electronics components industry are women. Usually, they’re one of the only women in the room.”
“Being part of any initiative that supports diversity and inclusion is just the right thing to do. Women make up 45% of Avnet’s workforce, so you can bet I will continue to champion programs that enable us to identify our rising female leaders earlier in their careers and position them for success in leadership roles,” said Phil Gallagher, CEO of Avnet and member of the Women in Electronics Advisory Council.
WE has an industry-wide mentorship program that addresses career development, barriers to advancement, and work-life balance — an issue of increasing concern to men as well as women. Members are directly paired with women in leadership roles to discuss issues and challenges. The organization also offers training and discussion groups. WE Radio, a series of leadership interviews with executives, serves as an indirect mentorship tool. This podcast-type series includes conversations with women in the electronics industry, like Heather Fulara, head of supplier management at Newark, and Lynn Torrel, chief procurement and supply chain officer at Flex Electronics. Men participate too, including Michael Knight, president of TTI Inc. and Phil Gallagher, CEO of Avnet. “Men and women are working together to really expand the talent coming into the industry and show young women that there is a place for them in the technical electronics industry,” said Mattox. The Women in Electronics Even Better Together Summit: Progressing Cultural Innovation will be held online on March 24. Keynote speakers include Arrow’s President of Global Supply Chain Services Alan Bird, Avnet’s Gallagher, and Flex’s Torrel.
“I’d like to see more companies understand the financial impact of what we’re losing when we don’t pay attention to inclusion issues. Gender disparities affect innovation,” said Mattox. “We know that girls excel in STEM activities when they participate at the earliest levels. We need to get these young ladies to stay in the industry, knowing they have a place here, knowing that they have an industry that will come alongside of them, because we need their input, we need their ideas, and we need their different way of thinking.”