With all women’s progress over the past few decades, it’s hard to believe that only 13 percent of working engineers are female. But as an electrical engineer at Intel Corporation, Alicia Lowery is one of the brave few – and she’s passionate about getting more girls and women involved in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
When she’s not developing cutting-edge technology, Alicia works with Intel’s STAY WITH IT program to encourage female college students to “stay with” their engineering majors and graduate. Quarterlette chatted with Alicia about her experiences as a female engineer, her advice for young women and why it’s so important to have full female representation in STEM.
Q: How did you become interested in engineering? What do you love about it?
A: I went to a science and technology high school, which introduced me to many different types of engineering. I loved the hands-on problem solving and was really interested in understanding how things work, so choosing to major in engineering seemed like the right and natural thing to do.
What I love most about engineering is that it’s a challenge – it allows me to continuously test my understanding and push my own limits. It’s also really cool to see products that I helped develop being sold in stores and used to enable awesome technologies!
Q: Tell us about your work with Intel to encourage women and minorities to pursue science and engineering. What else does Intel do to support this goal?
A: I’m involved with Intel’s STAY WITH IT program, which encourages female engineering students to stay enrolled in their major and graduate. I recorded a video for STAY WITH IT about some of the challenges I had to overcome to become an engineer and get to where I am today, which I hope will inspire young women and show them that staying with engineering can (and will) yield great benefits.
Intel supports a wide range of programs and initiatives to support women and minorities at every point of the STEM pipeline. The company sponsors several education programs that provide opportunities for young women to get involved in STEM, such as annual competitions like the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which took place just a few weeks ago. Nearly half of this year’s finalists were female and it was incredible to see all the advanced technologies and inventions created by teenage girls, from a brainwave-activated robot to a $5 HIV test that can be used in low-resource communities.
At the other end of the pipeline, Intel is also really committed to workforce diversity and closing the gender gap in the tech industry. Earlier this year, our CEO announced a new goal to achieve full representation of women and underrepresented minorities at Intel in the U.S. by 2020. Intel is investing $300 million to help build a pipeline of female and underrepresented technical talent and support hiring and retaining more women and minorities.
Q: Why is it so important for more girls and women to get involved – and stay involved – in STEM?
A: Girls and young women can gain valuable technical and problem-solving skills through their involvement in STEM activities, as well as increased confidence and autonomy. These experiences can help encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM fields and significantly increase their earning potential – women in STEM fields earn a third more than their female peers in non-STEM fields.
On a broader level, it’s important to expand the STEM talent pool because science, technology, engineering and math are increasingly essential to our global economy. In order to drive competition and innovation, we need to tap into women’s ingenuity and potential. Additionally, women make up half of the population and have tremendous buying power, which means companies will need to understand and develop products for women in order to stay relevant. How can a company successfully do this without female representation and women’s unique perspective in the development and execution of its products?
Q: What has it been like to be a woman in a very male-dominated field like engineering?
A: I think it hasn’t really been a challenge for me for two reasons. First of all, my team is very open and focuses on results, irrespective of who they come from – which makes it easier for any minority to thrive. Second, I’m confident enough to speak up when necessary and demand the respect I think I deserve. These two factors have worked to my advantage and helped me thrive in a male-dominated field. However, some of my friends’ experiences haven’t been as favorable. Their team members discount them because they’re women, don’t value their input and make it harder for them to grow and succeed.
Q: In your experience, what factors cause girls and women to drop out of STEM activities, careers or educational programs – or discourage them from getting involved in the first place?
A: There’s a lot of reasons women don’t get involved in or drop out of STEM. I think many women don’t get involved simply because they haven’t been exposed to it, so they don’t think it’s fun or interesting. It makes it hard for them to see themselves in STEM careers. I’ve had so many women say to me, “I’m just not smart enough to do what you do.” This is so far from the truth! While engineering is challenging, it just requires some dedication and discipline. I’ve also heard women say they’re not good at math or science, but I know many excellent engineers who weren’t good at math. Engineering is really about problem solving and thinking outside the box, and learning how to utilize the tools to do that.
There are also people along the way – teachers, college professors, co-workers, etc. – who will question your ability simply because you’re a woman. It becomes evident in how they talk to you, listen to you, value your ideas, judge your performance and promote you. One of my college professors actually told me I shouldn’t become an engineer but instead of discouraging me, it fueled me to try harder and perform better – and now he has to eat his words. However, many women can become discouraged for these reasons.
Q: What advice would you give to young women who are pursuing careers in STEM?
A: Stay with it! Believe in yourself and your abilities. Internalize feedback that is given to enable growth and throw out criticism that is given to harm and discourage. Take advantage of all of the resources available to succeed and network. Stand up for yourself, speak with a calm and wise authority and always strive to be the best you can be.