Women In Electronics: Exploring diversity in Canadian engineering
By EP&T Magazine
Irene Sterian is the technology business partner at Toronto-based contract electronic manufacturer Celestica Inc., where she manages a global team of senior engineers to provide customer solutions in the areas of electronics technology for healthcare, industrial, aerospace, defense, enterprise, telecommunication, and solar market segments. In addition to that, Irene is cross-appointed as the president & CEO of ReMAP. Irene founded ReMAP in 2014 to form an integrated shared ecosystem to accelerate innovations developed in Canada for the global market.
What is your message to female engineers seeking to take on leadership roles?
In my experience, every positive is amplified exponentially. I focus on keeping a positive mindset while mitigating the negative. I was willing to take risks and forge ahead even when I faced roadblocks to reach my goals. I looked at setbacks as learning opportunities while building on my achievements. Asserting myself required some key valuable traits. I have found that I have to create my own weather. I’ve had to be a seeker, a life-long learner and a great communicator. I point to my success by asking to tackle big challenges versus waiting for someone to offer them to me. I started my first large scale project at IBM by asking to be a team leader in Japan. From there, I forge ahead, leveraging the support from my loudest cheerleaders, including my male engineering counterparts. I haven’t stopped since.
How would you sum up the work/life balance advice you share with female engineers and their employers?
I consider it more like a work/life integration. We all juggle many roles and need to be realistic about our approach to productivity. A successful work/life integration that encompasses work/personal/family needs requires creativity to determine what works best. I like to schedule blocks of work time separate from one-on-one time with my family. With advancements in technology such as laptops and remote connectivity and with the support of our employer, it’s easier to manage flexible working hours, conflicting priorities, and a demanding schedule using virtual meetings and electronic devices. I have created a supportive environment that enables my team to develop a work/life balance that works best for them to optimize performance and job satisfaction.
How important is it to enjoy the full work experience, as it relates to work environment, and the people you work for and with?
Staying connected in your career requires planning in our busy lives. It helps when you remain curious and keep an interest in your core industry. Good ideas proliferate at the edge. I’m a proponent of life-long learning. My best ideas come from reading a lot of business books; meeting new people; being curious; as well as attending/speaking at conferences and workshops that are on the periphery of my knowledge. When you work with a diverse team of Engineers and supporting roles, then there is a cohesiveness when you all have a passion for why you are there.
How can women feel more connected to the engineering community?
Find your tribe. There are like-minded people to connect with in your profession. I have found mine in organizations such as, SPIE Women in Optics, Women in Aerospace Canada, and Women in Automotive. The Surface Mount Technology Association (SMTA) has a Leadership Program to promote mentoring and building career paths. Within each organization are opportunities to develop personal growth, network, and increase the visibility women in STEM.
Be a mentor & a mentee–Be open to the opportunities. Someone taught me how to do e-introductions and without knowing it, he became my networking mentor! At my organization, our partners have completed more than 11,000 mentoring hours since 2014.
Mentoring doesn’t have to be long term–It’s better to have several mentors over time as your career changes. I leverage industry and advisory groups and speaking opportunities. I can mentor many at one time with one talk. It was a rewarding experience for me to be invited to be one of the Ursula Franklin Series for Women in STEM speakers at my alma matter, the University of Toronto.
How can women be encouraged to stay in engineering?
In the digital economy, every company is essentially now a tech company. As an engineer, your technical skills are highly transferable in many areas of an organization. Your expertise can be launch pad that will open doors for other opportunities to build a rewarding career. Today is the perfect time to be an engineer in the world of autonomous and the digital economy. For example, as automobiles become more autonomous, it’s estimated that 60% of the car will need to be redesigned – with approximately 40% of that being the electronics. This will create many opportunities in electronics engineering.
Another example is smart manufacturing. As manufactured products and processes become more complex and productive, they give rise to a host of highly qualified personnel in non-manufacturing and/or non-engineering jobs. As factories get smarter and more advanced, the multiplier increases significantly. In some manufacturing sectors, such as electronic computing, the multiplier effect can be as high as 16 to one. Your skills will be valuable in a wide range of specialties such as, Data Analytics, Finance, Communication, Sales & Marketing.
Why is it Important to have women leaders in engineering firms?
Engineering is for everybody. Gender stereotypes should not dictate career potential or the direction that it takes. Engineering is a growth industry. More effort needs to made to create opportunities for women with accessibility for all. In my experience, women are the team builders and are great leaders that leverage the strengths of their team and position them where they are more likely to shine. Diversity creates a competitive advantage for innovation. The strength of ReMAP relies upon a diverse group of partners and their contributions. The inclusion of under-represented groups in research, technology innovation and entrepreneurship creates a positive impact for any business. The latest research indicates that the more diverse an organization is; the more successful a company will be.
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