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Inclusion for All: Celebrating Women in Engineering

Jun 23, 2022 5 min read

June 23, 2022 is the ninth annual International Women in Engineering Day, started by the UK-based Women’s Engineering Society (WES). Women remain underrepresented in engineering around the world, making up only 16.5% of engineers, according to WES. Despite this underrepresentation, women in engineering and engineering career paths are determined and perseverant. Findings from a multiregional survey of engineers and engineering students conducted in 2021 and published in the KLA Engineering Inspiration Report shows more than half (54%) of female engineers and students say they were motivated by the chance to break the glass ceiling when first introduced to engineering.

To celebrate the women in engineering at KLA, we reached out to some accomplished female engineers from across our global regions to discuss their roles, challenges they have overcome and what they tell future generations about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). A few even had thoughts on what they would say today if they could go back in time and have a discussion with their 18-year-old self.

Here are a few of their stories in our first instalment of this mini-series:

Elsie Yu, Senior Director, Technical Engagement, Hsinchu, Taiwan

While attending primary school, Elsie Yu’s parents gave her a microscope.

“I discovered the world with this gift, and ever since have enjoyed making scientific experiments and learning how things work.”

Elsie Yu, senior director, technical engagement

Elsie earned a master’s degree from National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. She came to KLA in 1996 and now leads a technical engagement team at KLA Taiwan to support a key customer’s product lines.

“I’m very proud of helping to build a strong team and seeing people really grow through KLA’s strong training and mentoring culture,” she says. “We have developed many good engineers and managers, and everyone helps each other.”

Elsie learned the value of helping others without expecting to receive anything in return while being mentored by two senior bosses, and explains, “At KLA, women can expand their opportunities to learn and gain knowledge, especially when seeking answers to complex questions. When you discover through your network that there are many options available to solve a problem, you are more likely to push forward and find the answers.”

Technology is gender nonspecific, Elsie points out, but social values can often hinder female engineers who struggle to balance expectations. She traveled frequently when her children were young, which was challenging when the kids became ill.

Elsie Yu says technology fields are gender nonspecific, but that female engineers who become mothers often face challenges.

“You feel anxious and guilty when you cannot always be home, so I try to avoid short-notice travel and ask for my family’s support while I am away,” she says. “But it’s important that women make time for the all-important family – bedtime stories, weekend outdoor activities.”

What would Elsie tell her 18-year-old self? “When you need to make a decision, choose the difficult road because you will learn and gain experiences that others don’t have.”

Janet Hopkins, Etch Applications Manager, KLA Newport in Wales

As a schoolgirl, Janet Hopkins enjoyed science class and wanted to study the subject further.

She took her studies forward and earned a Ph.D from Durham University in England. Today, Janet takes pride in being part of cross-functional teams at KLA in Newport, Wales that develop disruptive semiconductor process technologies such as plasma dicing. Young women, she says, should reject stereotypes about women in technology.

“Demonstrating knowledge dispels misconceptions about ability, regardless of gender. Continued learning through direct involvement in developing new technologies, proactive self-development training and optimizing communication skills are still key for me today.” 

Janet Hopkins , Etch applications manager

Janet Hopkins actively promotes STEM careers among young women and girls.

Janet calls it “fantastic” that KLA has an inclusive and diverse workforce and offers resources to female employees.

Presentations by KLA’s Women in STEM Empowered (WISE) employee resource group are inspiring, Janet says, because she identifies with comments from other participants and wants to make an impact on young women considering technology careers.

“As a STEM Ambassador, I promote the idea that engineering and technology is for all and offers an exciting career where you can contribute directly to a changing world,” she says.

Perceptions have changed from the time Janet first interviewed for an engineering job, recalling, “The front desk assumed I was there for an office support role interview based on the fact I was female, and on more than one occasion at conferences, other attendees assumed I was there as somebody’s partner rather than in my own right as an attendee.”

If Janet could go back in time and advise to her 18-year-old self and her daughter, she would say, “Accept that new situations will push you outside your comfort zone, which will be difficult. However, these opportunities will enable you to learn and grow, so embrace them.”

Narayani Narasimhan, Manager, Software Engineering, India

When Narayani (Nani) Narasimhan saw counselors at her university steering female students away from mechanical engineering because shop work would be “too hard for us to deal with,” she was still motivated to join the engineering program – one of only 14 women in a cohort of 200. After earning a master’s degree from Stanford University, Nani landed her first job as an applications engineer for KLA in Milpitas, California.

Nani went to work immediately on a flagship project that included design integration to beat a competing product.

“We had to prove value to our customers while also managing their expectations. We worked smartly, collaborating with engineers around the world and persevered – and demonstrated KLA’s competencies in a very competitive field.”

Nani Narasimhan, manager, software engineering, India

Her team was recognized by the company and customer, and 10 years later, she has worked on major projects for KLA in North America, France and India – a fun and fulfilling journey that has required her to balance expectations at work and home.

“For the first five years of my career, ‘being a woman’ was not a thought that crossed my mind, even though I was often the only female in meetings,” Nani recalls. “But then I got pregnant. I wanted to work full time and also be a super mom and, of course, maintain the perfect home for my husband and child – but nothing went as planned.”  

When the baby cried during conference calls, Nani did her best to keep her professionalism and focus while simultaneously taking care of the child’s needs – a situation faced by many working moms.

Thanks to mentoring from a former boss in Milpitas, she gained the strength to make it all work.

What would Nani tell her young daughter about a career in technology or engineering? “It’s exhilarating and intellectually stimulating because we change lives by building something new that solves a need. In technology and engineering, even the sky is not the limit!”

Nani Narasimhan struggled to establish work-life balance when she became a mom, but would encourage her daughter to consider a career in technology.

WES says International Women in Engineering Day is a platform that encourages girls and young women to consider a career in engineering.

Be sure to catch up on previous employee spotlights in our Opportunity Ahead, Making the World a Better Place and Inclusion for All series, and don’t forget to browse job openings on the KLA careers page.

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