Being a woman in the tech industry can pose unique challenges: being the only woman in the room, finding “balance” between family and working life and combating unconscious biases against women in the industry, just to name a few.
According to a recent study by Accenture and Girls Who Code, unbelievably, the proportion of women to men in tech roles has declined over the past 35 years, even though these fields play a vital role in today’s economy. Only 21% of the women surveyed said they believed the technology industry was a space in which they could thrive. Now consider women working in the electronics space responsible for some of the smallest scale areas of technology like microreplication and nanotechnology and the numbers likely dwindle further.
In the 3M Electronics Materials Solutions Division (EMSD) however, women are dramatically shaping the future of the electronics space and they believe it is not only an industry for women to thrive, but they are actively proving it. EMSD is led by women with unique backgrounds and big ideas like Wendy Benson, Vice President, Zijin (Jenny) Zhu, Global Product Manager and Jaimie Stomberg, Application Development Specialist.
Zhu started with 3M Japan 10 years ago as a member of the sales team working with fast-paced clientele in the electronics market. The work was demanding yet rewarding. She had a front-row seat to some of the most innovative work taking place in Japan at that time. While she grew tremendously in her role in sales, she found her true passions lay in marketing. Two years ago, on what was one of her biggest adventures yet, she moved to the United States, on assignment, to help EMSD grow its semiconductor business.
There’s no secret that the electronics marketplace is very demanding, and customers are moving at lightning speeds, especially in the semiconductor industry. “If a customer has an issue come up on their end, we need to respond as soon as reasonably possible with a solution,” said Zhu. “It can be very difficult to find a balance between these urgent requests and my family, and it became even more challenging when I had my first child last year.”
Zhu recalls experiencing doubt from customers who struggled to trust her with the importance of their products, simply because she was a woman. However, she didn’t let their apprehension hold her back, instead, it propelled her and led her to collaborate with a revolutionary supercomputer company, which quickly became a top-ranking and world-famous business within just a few years.
“3M’s products helped our customer achieve new, greater product performance, and I was able to receive a few awards from that company for my work, which was a true honor,” Zhu said. “Overcoming challenges, building trust and working closely with the customer to develop this new application and launch their product is one of my proudest moments while at 3M.”
The added pressure on women to perform well both as parents and employees can be overwhelming for mothers, which Zhu and Stomberg can both attest to. Stomberg recently returned from maternity leave and considers juggling odd hours and high customer demands and her role as a mom to be her biggest challenge yet.
While demanding personally and professionally, the women find the work they do exhilarating and the support of each other and 3M, crucial to their success.
Breaking the Mold
Stomberg’s role in application development focuses heavily on the semiconductor business as well. As she’s grown her career in the electronics space, she recalls times when her ideas weren’t taken seriously and feeling the need to establish her credibility more than she would if she were a man.
“Earlier in my career I was working on a project and had some ideas for how a specific issue needed to be addressed,” said Stomberg. “They would be ignored by a coworker until a male colleague brought them up. At first, I thought ‘oh, they’re busy, they’re not paying attention’ because you never want to think it’s because you’re a woman, but unfortunately that’s the case sometimes.”
While a discouraging experience, it hasn’t stopped Stomberg from reaching for her personal and professional goals. In fact, the challenge and rigor of the industry are what drives her every day. As a testament to her work, she recently received a promotion less than three years after joining the 3M team, which has been one of her proudest moments since joining 3M.
Benson has been with 3M for 29 years. She started in a lab role in the Consumer Business, spent time as the Managing Director in Chile and eventually, in 2017 moved into her current business leadership role for the Chemicals and Semiconductor Business in EMSD.
“As an engineer, it’s been clear to me that this is a male-dominated environment, ever since my undergrad experience,” said Benson. While she knew she didn’t fit the “typical” mold for chemical engineers, she never wanted to be typical.
The fast-paced work, dynamic teammates and the high caliber of clients she has the opportunity to work with make her excited to come to work every day and push the envelope when it comes to “what’s next” in the electronics space.
Inspiring the Future
Benson, Zhu and Stomberg are all inspired by the fast pace of the industry and getting a firsthand look at the next big thing in electronics. They believe there is a spot for women to make their mark in the electronics industry, and they are doing just that.
“There are many benefits for promoting female leaders in this space,” Zhu said. “It’s fast-moving and there’s something new every day. I know women are great listeners, strong communicators and efficient at multitasking—this industry is perfect for women to take the lead, and it is about time they do.”
Women in electronics may be few but they are proud.
“We advocate for each other and have the confidence to speak up for each other whenever we can,” Benson said. “I want to enable women to be in these jobs and bring more women into the industry. We are needed and the opportunities are endless.”
If you want to help encourage participation in science for women and girls, tag and share photos of the women in science that you admire with #womeninscience on social media.
Interested in joining a company that champions diversity, equity and inclusion? Visit 3M.com/careers for more information.