By Mariya Braylovska | R&D Director, Custom Design Manufacturing Group, Synopsys
Woman engineers are no big deal. Does this shock you? To understand my perspective, historical grounding in Soviet history will help. I was born and raised in Kiev, Ukraine, part of the former Soviet Union. Over 100 years ago, Imperial Russia had a largely rural and illiterate society. After the Russian revolution in the early 20th century, only 2% of engineers were women. My grandmother was one of those women. Then, by the late 1960s, at least 41% of engineers were women. My mother was one of those women. That’s a steep ramp in those years following the revolution both educationally and professionally. By the time I came of age and started working in engineering, shortly after the millennia, there were a lot of women engineers. So, where I come from, pursuing an engineering career is, in fact, no big deal. In the west, women are not as prevalent in the engineering field. For comparison, as recently as 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that only 25% of computer workers and 15% of engineers were women. So, my perspective has roots in my heritage.
I work in the west now, in Munich, Germany, for Synopsys as director of R&D for the company’s Custom Design Manufacturing Group. And, because of my background and 15 years in the field, I know women can contribute at every level, and they can be successful at it. Beyond your education and growing your skillset, here are two things I’ve found that are important as you build your career: 1) learn to have confidence and take smart risks and 2) find joy in what you do. By preparing, taking risks, and finding joy in your work, there is no reason you can’t rise to the top of your field.
- Have confidence and take smart risks
Have confidence in yourself and your skills. Then, if you see something that you want to do, work toward that goal. When the opportunity arises and a job opening comes up, apply. Even if you don’t feel confident about the job, or if it’s a stretch, apply anyway.
An example of this in my own career was when Synopsys had opened an office in St. Petersburg. I made a case to build a team there. While the idea wasn’t initially approved, I persevered and eventually got the go-ahead for a test project. When the test project went well, the company gave me the opportunity to start and build a team. Then, when that was successful, my responsibility grew from there.
I see a lot of young women who hold themselves back because they think that everything must be perfect before they make a move. Here’s a recent anecdote. My team at Synopsys works on semiconductor design tools that are at the forefront of manufacturing, simulating manufacturing methods that are not even a part of production yet. The planning portion of my team’s work is critical. I rely on engineers on my team to gauge an accurate effort for each project that we do. Recently, a male engineer on my team gave an estimate that a project would take two weeks while a female engineer of equal caliber said the same project would take three months. While his answer was overly confident, hers was under confident. After the three of us discussed the project together, what turned out to be the most accurate estimation was an answer in the middle. To me this is a clear example of precisely why diversity in the workplace is important, and why not everything needs to be perfect to move forward.
- Find Your Joy
You can be successful by following lots of different paths in STEM fields, but if you don’t love what you do, you won’t be as successful as you could be. For instance, I truly love the satisfaction in solving technical challenges with elegant solutions. I also enjoy being a manager of engineering teams because I get great joy out of motivating, challenging, and mentoring others. The management part of my job is about guiding the team by asking the right questions, supporting the development process, and working to move ideas forward. But management isn’t for everyone. Success takes a lot of shapes, and you should work to find a good fit for you, something you love. Don’t try to shoehorn yourself into a rigid definition of success because success follows when you love what you do.
While I may think that women engineers are no big deal, what I mean by that is that having the potential to do great work isn’t greater than or less than that same capacity in our male counterparts. It is essential to the future to have gender diversity in engineering. Because, a variety of perspectives and work styles are important for technical discussions. It’s not about a competition between genders or other classifications. Diversity provides a more natural team environment. The different views in discussion—and being open and honest—are critical for arriving at the best answers, especially in tech.