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Inclusion for All: Celebrating Women in Engineering, Part II

Jul 7, 2022 3 min read

In June, International Women in Engineering Day celebrated the achievements of women in the field. Today we continue our profiles of accomplished KLA female engineers who share some thoughts on the next generation of women entering the profession, gender equality and how they have overcome challenges.

Grace Chen, Fellow, Milpitas, California

Grace Chen came to United States to become a concert pianist. When Grace turned 18 and realized that the likelihood for her to be a successful was less than 1%, she explored other career options focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Unlike music where each performance is unique, the laws of physics never change. However, through physics, she realized that one can develop unique, innovative solutions and make discoveries – similar to performing a new piece of music. This idea resonated with Grace and led her to pursue a Ph.D. in physics from MIT.

“Classes were mostly men, which might be intimidating for some women because if you are in the minority, speaking up may feel risky. But I came to the field with no strong STEM preparation prior to entering college, knowing that I had some catching up to do. I couldn’t afford to be afraid to raise my hand and ask questions so I could quickly catch up with my peers in the classroom.”

Grace Chen, Fellow, Milpitas, California

She adds, “When you train as a performer – often as the only one on stage – you are the minority in a theater and, as such, I’m comfortable speaking in any environment. As a leader, I encourage the women in my group at KLA to speak up. It might be scary at first, but as you practice, it gets better. The experience is similar to how one overcomes stage fright. You practice, and you get better.”

After working as a scientist for various companies, Grace joined KLA as a senior staff research scientist in 2000. Today, she is most proud of “seeing the amazing technologies I took part in developing live in the tools we ship to customers.”

As a mother of two, Grace saw the dropout rate of girls in STEM education firsthand. In her daughter’s fourth and fifth grade classes, more than 50% of the students enrolled in STEM courses were girls. By middle school, she adds, the split was 50-50, and then the dropoff became even more dramatic in high school and higher education.

“Somewhere along the way, we filter out women, so we need to focus on keeping female student counts high right into their higher education,” Grace observes. “I am encouraged by the fact that people in leadership positions are talking about diversity, but to increase the female population in STEM fields, we need to focus on keeping the female student counts high from K through 12 and into college and higher education.”

Grace Chen’s daughters are pursuing degrees in the sciences.

Throughout her career, mentors have encouraged Grace to take chances and push the boundary in her work rather than focus on the fear of making mistakes.

Grace says women in STEM careers need to let their voices be heard.

A strong advocate of mentorship, Grace believes KLA’s Women In STEM, Empowered (WISE) employee resource group, which helps to develop and advance women at KLA, is a great vehicle for KLA’s female scientists and engineers to gain access to mentorship.

“Early in my career, I didn’t necessarily notice how the imbalance of women in STEM, academia or business might have held me back,” she says, “but now that I’m older I realize we have an opportunity to change this and encourage more women to pursue leadership roles in science and technology.”

One of Grace’s daughters is a freshman studying bioengineering and the other is attending a Ph.D. in bioinformatics late in 2022.

“What do I tell them? I say, the really cool aspect of engineering and technology is that your invention or solution stays for a long time and the impact can affect millions of people. The other cool fact is that the content of STEM fields is gender-neutral. So, I say to them, don’t let being a minority or a women hinder you in the field. Let your skills, creativity and technical strength represent you. And, remember to speak up.”

Grace Chen

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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