MuAnalysis founder talks diversity in electronics industry
Exploring diversity through women in the Canadian electronics engineering and industry profession
Throughout 2020 EP&T explores the topic of diversity in the industry through a series of articles called Viewpoint; Canadian Women in Electronics – stories designed to get readers thinking about gender equity in the engineering profession, allowing others to maybe see their surroundings through a new lens.
Martine Simard-Normandin, PhD, is founder and president of Ottawa-based MuAnalysis, a privately owned professional laboratory and analytical service provider. Created in 2002, Dr. Simard-Normandin is formerly a scientist with Nortel Networks and later with STMicroelectonics. MuAnalysis provides analytical expertise and solutions to the electronics, photonics, life sciences, and manufacturing industries. The firm provides expertise in electron microscopy, optical microscopy, materials and failure analysis techniques and reliability testing to its customers. MuAnalysis was acquired by Grafoid in 2015.
What led you into an engineering career?
Technically speaking I’m not an engineer. I am a scientist. My graduate work was in astronomy, very ‘pure science R&D’ and leading only to an academic career. After 10 years in the university environment, I wanted something different and did an industrial post-doc at a semiconductor company. I loved the manufacturing environment and discovered that it has just as many challenges as academic R&D. I stayed.
How has your role or career path evolved over the years?
I spent 20 years at Nortel/STMicroelectronics in technical roles and eventually engineering management. In 2002, the crash came. We were all laid-off. That’s when I became an entrepreneur and started MuAnalysis. Over the years our business has evolved from semiconductors to many aspects of electronics.
What are your most compelling accomplishments?
Switching fields from astronomy to semiconductors. Launching MuAnalysis.
What is your message to female engineers seeking to take on leadership roles?
If that’s what you want, go for it. Don’t be afraid. Plan your career moves for it. It won’t happen by itself. Mentor junior staff, take initiatives, call meetings when a decision needs to be taken or a technical issue needs discussing. You might get a few raps on your knuckles now and then. Learn from the experience and keep going until you find that you are where you want to be.
Can gender imbalance in the engineering industry be solved?
Of course, but it depends on what you mean by imbalance. It’s not just about numbers, it’s about every employee feeling that they are in the right role for them.
How would you sum up the work/life balance advice you share with female engineers and their employers?
Work/life balance is important for everyone. It’s not gender or occupation defined. Engineers are well paid; they have an advantage over other employment, but they work hard, long hours sometimes. Don’t be afraid to spend extra on child care, housekeeping, snow removal, etc. In the end it’s purchased free time to use as you choose. If you want to attend the late meeting because it’s important to your advancement, or travel for business, you should be free to do so without guilt. You will also have more fun time with your family if you are not burdened by chores.
Do you see newer generations of women reacting differently in the workplace? Are they more bold?
I don’t think so. In the 60s and 70s most doors were closed to women, and great feminists lead to way to open them. The new generations have expectations that everything is open and they complain when encountering discrimination, but don’t necessary fight to get it resolved.
Why is it important to have women leaders in engineering firms?
It’s important to have good leaders.
Industry employers and associations have set some goals to achieve when it comes to equalization of genders within engineering circles. How do you think imposed gender initiatives will help women in their field?
When there is zero participation, imposing initiatives are useful to get the ball rolling. After that let it go. Mandating equal percentages or quotas is not useful, because you might get ill-suited candidates and that never helps a cause.
How can women in industry feel more connected to the engineering community?
Participate, attend conferences, present papers, join the IEEE, the SMTA, EDFAS. Volunteer to be on committees.
What impact does the lack of female role models in higher level positions have on aspiring engineers or young women entering the field?
It has no effect. The role models needed are in elementary, high school and university. Girls develop an interest in STEM before puberty. They must be encouraged to stick with it until graduation. If they have good models throughout their education, they will carry on and become role models themselves in their careers. New grads looking for jobs don’t choose where to apply based on who is the CEO.