Each of the 24 books in IEEE-USA E-BOOKS’ Women in Engineering series, outlining individual women’s journeys through careers and life, are inspiring. The books are even more powerful when several are read as a group. Such is the case for the last four in the Women in Engineering series compilations, grouping the e-books of Alice F. Squires, (Dandelion Wishes: A World Where We Collaborate as Equals), Karen S. Pedersen (Passion & Perseverance: One Woman’s Career History), Liang Xi Downey (From Semiconductor Physics to Sales and Marketing: My Perfect Career Path) and Shelly R. Born (New Experiences).
At first blush, the lives and careers of the four authors appear quite different. Downey starts her book addressing the reader saying, “Just like you, the path of my life is unique.” And the all the stories in the compilation are unique: Downey was born and educated in China, and she later work at IBM and GM. Pedersen worked in rate design and power engineering, before getting her MBA. Squires worked at companies such as IBM and General Dynamics, before becoming an Associate Professor teaching engineering and technology management. And Born was raised on a farm in Indiana, and she also raised a child on her own, before rising to a senior engineer position at Arizona Public Service.
Despite the diverse narratives, however, clear themes run through the books. The most obvious is the challenge of being a groundbreaking woman, in an industry men dominate.
In the compilation’s foreword, Helen Horwitz, a strong advocate for the Women in Engineering series wrote, “Whether you are a student, just starting your career, or are progressing in it, the stories of how these women overcame their personal challenges can be like gentle taps on the shoulder: ‘You are not alone.’ And “Others have struggled to achieve professional success.’”
Squires tells of being told on the first day of class that she would fail mechanical drawing — she was the only girl in the school who signed up for the course, instead of home economics (she passed with flying colors, assigned by the teacher to tutor some of her male classmates).
Squires also tells of the time she was asked to make coffee by a customer — being the only woman in the room. Adding to the discomfort, she neither drank coffee, nor knew how to make it (A VP jumped in to ask the client how they took their coffee and made it for them.)
The authors tell of cases of sexual harassment, being passed over for opportunities, and expectations to remain quiet at meetings. They also do not want the reader to view these stories as ancient history. Pedersen notes, “One would hope some of the thorny situations I ran into would have long disappeared from today’s workplace, but I must unhappily acknowledge, they still do exist.”
Generally similar also were how the four women responded — by seeing obstacles as opportunities; by excelling at school, or at work; and by choosing their battles. Though, Squires warns that some battles need to be fought, adding that, “Acquiescence moves the problem down to the next generation.”
Other themes that emerge from the book are the benefit of mentors, the importance of giving priority to family, and the rewards of volunteering.
Several of the authors have been active as volunteers with IEEE — including Pederson, IEEE-USA’s third female president; Born, who early in her career helped created the affinity group GOLD (Graduates of the Last Decade) and was the first woman on the IEEE-USA Board of Directors; and Downey, who as part of the IEEE Humanitarian Technology Challenge, helped develop Sun Blazer, a trailer with solar panels and battery storage. Local entrepreneurs can bring the trailer to remote villages to charge batteries and phones — helping improve lives, fostering cleaner energy, and enabling local business development.
The Woman In Engineering Compilation Volume 6: Books 21-24 is available for free to all IEEE members. Non-members pay $9.99. You can find this compilation, as well as all of the individual e-books in the Women in Engineering series at https://ieeeusa.org/shop.
This compilation is the sixth and final one in the award-winning IEEE-USA series of 24 narratives written by woman in engineering and technology.
Horwitz, former Staff Director of IEEE Corporate Communications, as well as the freelance preliminary editor and author liaison for the series, added in the Foreword, “Their accounts of how they persevered should serve as a lasting source of inspiration. They will also remind you that the inevitable peaks and valleys offer opportunities for learning you might otherwise have missed… Their stories encourage you to think big — welcoming game-changing innovation, being an active participant on high performance teams, and taking charge of your own career.” Horwitz succeeded in seeing the series complete, though she passed away after decades of service to IEEE this past March, at 82.
Paul Lief Rosengren is the coauthor of In the Time of Covid: One Hospital’s Struggles and Triumphs. He worked for more than three decades in communications at NBC, PSE&G, and in state government. Rosengren has a Master’s in Public Policy from The Kennedy School of Government, Harvard; and an undergraduate degree in political science from Dickinson College.