How Three Women Found Success in the STEM Fields
By Lori Cameron

From grade school to grad school—and beyond, one critical goal in STEM is to get more women involved. But, once a woman has landed that highly coveted job, how does she navigate a realm dominated primarily by men? How does she handle conflict and feelings of doubt? What is the key to success?

Three women who have had an extraordinary impact in the field of computing offer sound advice on the age-old issue of gender relations. Here’s what they had to say.

Picard-credit-A-Ryan
Photo credit: A. Ryan

Rosalind Wright Picard: First, assume the best in people. In particular, be patient with men who may need help feeling comfortable around you.  Most of them want to see you succeed and want to do the right thing, but they often feel uncomfortable and don’t know what they can do to help. For example, the next time one of them complains they are too busy or stressed, then offer, “Hey, you’re probably getting more invitations or responsibilities than you have time for. If you want to bounce some of those invitations my way, I can take them on.”

Picard is credited with starting the branch of computer science known as “affective computing.” She is founder and director of the Affective Computing Research Group at the MIT Media Lab, and co-founder of the startups Affectiva and Empatica.

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miyachi_sized-295x375Christine Myachi: Believe in your abilities and hold your head high.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you do not have ability.  If you are still a student, find an open-source project that you can contribute to—real-world projects are often more nuanced and complex than classwork. Companies will be impressed with your contribution.  This is hard to do when you also have classwork, so find a project you are passionate about. One last tip: Try not to take things personally as the difficulty is often not about you.

Miyachi is currently a principal systems engineer and architect at Xerox Corporation and holds several patents.  In 2018, Myachi participated in the “Women Making the Future” panel discussion at the IEEE Future Directions Technology Time Machine Symposium.

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susan_landau_1548158364Susan Landau: First, acknowledge to yourself when you run into an unfair situation. Sometimes you need friends and colleagues to help you understand what happened. (These can be friends of both genders.) Sometimes you can confront the unfair situation, sometimes not. In the latter case, the cost may be too high to be worth it. But once you’ve done the acknowledgment—and the response if you have one—move on.

Remember why you do what you do, and focus on that. It’s not always easy to get past an unfair situation. But, if you get stuck in anger and pain, they’ve won. If you move on and succeed, you’ve won.

Landau is noted for her testimony before Congress in the Apple vs. FBI case resulting from the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack. Landau is Bridge Professor of Cybersecurity and Policy at Tufts University. She frequently appears on NPR.

 


 

About Lori Cameron

Lori Cameron is Senior Writer for IEEE Computer Society publications and digital media platforms with over 20 years extensive technical writing experience. She is a part-time English professor and winner of two 2018 LA Press Club Awards. Contact her at l.cameron@computer.org. Follow her on LinkedIn.