Women in Tech: Look Beyond IT, Software & Startups!!

Rizia Bardhan is pioneering an approach that uses nanotech particles to diagnose or treat disease Aerospace engineer Natalie Panek champions the women who are trailblazing their way through the technology industry and discusses the need for more positive exposure for women across the spectrum of 'STEM' disciplines, such as engineering and nanoscience. 

Over the past short while, there has been an impressive effort to increase and showcase the number of women in 'tech'. Women from all over the world have rallied together to advocate for technology careers and really revolutionize how we think about the tech industry. This movement is amazing and exactly what is needed to inspire a whole new generation of women, but despite this movement, I cannot help but wonder what message is actually being sent?

I have read countless articles, blogs, and online posts regarding the inspirational and visionary women in tech; anything from the ‘Top Women in Tech to Watch’ or the ‘The Fiercest Women in Tech’ etc. The women on these lists are without a doubt trail blazers and visionaries in the work that they do and are definitely an inspiration for the next generation of women. But there is a common theme threaded throughout many of their job descriptions – software engineering, coding, entrepreneurship, or IT.

Having read so many of these articles, I question whether we are doing a disservice to the countless women of Gen Y who may want to pursue ‘technology’ careers.

After all, in less than 10 seconds I can think of countless applications of technology more diverse than IT, software, and startups. Is this a short-sighted perception of ‘tech’?

tech·nol·o·gy [tek-nol-uh-jee]

noun

1. The branch of knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means and their interrelation with life, society, and the environment, drawing upon such subjects as industrial arts, engineering, applied science, and pure science.

2. A scientific or industrial process, invention, method, or the like.

3. The sum of the ways in which social groups provide themselves with the material objects of their civilization.

Technology is a diverse and integral component of so many disciplines. It is woven into every aspect of our lives – watching the television, driving a car, or taking a picture with a camera phone. Behind all of the technology we use and rely on, women and men are inventing, designing, developing, and innovating new technology on a day-to-day basis. We are just starting to do a better job showcasing women in software and entrepreneurial fields, but we need to propel this into each of the Science, Engineering, Technology, and Math (STEM) disciplines.

Engineering alone has fields ranging from mechanical to environmental; materials science to space systems design, civil, industrial, chemical, and electrical (where chemical, civil, and materials engineering typically have the highest ratios of women).

Technology plays a fundamental role in all STEM careers.

We must showcase women making their mark in ALL of these fields when we talk about women in ‘tech’.

Women like Crissy Rodriguez, a rare female Vehicle Dynamics Development Engineer with Ford; a job which she describes as equal parts engineer, race driver, and vehicle psychologist. Crissy’s mom was a huge encouraging factor in her life to figure out how things work, take them apart, and put them back together again. Influences like this are what led Crissy to pursue a degree in engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology.

Or consider Yvette Dominguez, who manages the Payload Design Engineering Section at Space Systems/Loral. In this role, Yvette oversees the design and system requirements for payloads on satellites, performing front-end design risk mitigation for various satellite programs.

And moving into the sciences, women like Rizia Bardhan, who is taking an interdisciplinary approach to nanoscience by converging engineering, material science, chemistry, physics, and biomedicine in order to use Nanotech particles to diagnose or treat disease.

Technology emphasizes the intricate balance between human progress and an entire universe waiting for discovery. This progress depends on advances in all STEM areas and we need to increase the number of women pursuing each of these disciplines. It is entirely possible that in trying to increase the number of women in tech and profiling the stars of the ‘tech’ industry, we are only going to create a new stereotype of an 'engineer'; that a woman in tech can only be a coder, software engineer, or entrepreneur.

We should be showcasing how many different avenues 'technology' actually includes and how many options there are for the next generation of women to pursue limitless careers in STEM.

Natalie Panek is a robotic operator and aerospace engineer at MDA Space Missions, previously interning at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center and NASA Ames Research Center. She’s driven a solar-powered car across North America, has a pilot’s license, and skydived with Korea’s first Astronaut. With degrees in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Natalie has co-authored papers on Microgravity Combustion and On-orbit Satellite Servicing. She is an advocate for women in STEM, encouraging women to dive head-on into challenging careers. She has spoken at TEDx and on multiple panels for women in tech on the topics of advancement, leadership, and space exploration. 

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