Mwrf 10944 Programmerswomen 939787416 0

Challenges Still Facing Women in Microwaves and How You Can Help

June 3, 2019
The Women in Microwaves session at IMS 2019 exposes the continuing challenges faced by women in the microwaves & RF industry, and presents courses of action on how to break down those walls once and for all.

Series: Addressing the Gender Gap in Engineering

It’s 2019, and you may be asking yourself, “Why does there need to be a specific ‘Women’s’category of events at the International Microwave Symposium (IMS)?”

“You are here to fill the equality quota.”

“Gender equality efforts are a form of reverse discrimination.”

"Men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people.”

“Do you have children? Do you want to have kids?”

I’ve heard all of these statements in every tech job I’ve ever worked, spoken by both men and women. Imagine hearing such comments as you apply for internships, get job offers, navigate your career, and seek opportunities for professional growth. Comments like the first two carry implications that your achievements are not earned by your intelligence, hard work, and capabilities, but that they were handed to you in order to meet an affirmative action “quota” or you were selected over a more qualified non-minority candidate.

Gender Generalizations

Statements referring to generalizations that gender preferences are the reason there are far more men in STEM careers relay the message that women are at a biological disadvantage professionally. This can give women the dilemma of trying to figure out how to dress in a way that intentionally subdues their gender, in the hope that their capabilities and position will remain the highlight. Because if you look too feminine, you may not be viewed first and foremost as an engineer, a manager, or a program lead, and, therefore, you will be treated with less respect.

Even seemingly innocuous informal conversations at work about your family pose a risk for women in STEM. Women worry about whether their work ethic is going to be questioned because they have (or plan to have) children. These worries arise because women do not know how or whether the gap in their availability during maternity leave will impact their careers.

Mothers are often assumed to be the primary caregiver. What if their parenthood status will be weighed against them during selection for opportunities, as it may be presumed that they will be less reliable or require more restricted hours? These concerns are valid and real. Research into the gender gap in pay wages has led to what is called “The Motherhood Penalty vs. the Fatherhood Bonus.”1 This phrase summarizes research results that show that women’s financial compensation declines as they have more children while men’s salaries increase as they have more kids.

Over time, hearing these types of messages from advisors, peers, and co-workers undermines confidence and leads to self-doubt. We call it “death by a thousand cuts,” and it’s still encountered by many women who are members of the STEM community. Even with all of the training, support, and education on gender equality in STEM, there are still so few women who enter, and more importantly, who stay in the field, and fewer still who rise through the ranks to become leaders. 

According to research by the Society of Women Engineers, only 30% of women who earn bachelor’s degrees in engineering still work in engineering 20 years later. Of the women who leave the engineering profession, 30% cite organization climate as their reason for leaving.

While some of us are fortunate enough to find mentors or others to help us navigate these struggles, it’s highly dependent on individual personalities and situations, and is something that’s still inconsistent throughout the industry. Having an event at a conference such as IMS is a great opportunity to allow people facing these challenges to realize they are not alone, get advice from a panel of highly accomplished individuals who can relate, help open the eyes of those who may not understand the magnitude of the issues, and jump-start progress in fixing the problem from multiple angles.

Making Strides, But…

Significant advances have been made in the opportunities available to women in STEM, but women continue to endure unique, daunting challenges in a career field that’s dominated by men. Along with extremely talented pioneering women, men have also played a pivotal role in the strides toward gender equality in STEM. For progress to happen, those in positions of authority and power need to be a part of the solution. Women and minorities need to communicate the realities of their challenges so that those who want to help can understand the situation and we can all work together for positive change. The Women in Microwaves (WiM) session is an opportunity for this communication and collaboration.

Decades of research has shown that socially diverse groups are more innovative, diligent, and better at solving complex, non-routine problems,2 exactly what STEM professions strive to achieve and what IMS exemplifies as the world’s premier technical conference. IMS is where today’s and tomorrow’s innovators and leaders in the field of Microwaves gather. Getting the message out to this influential audience will seed tomorrow’s changes. We can help each other grow personally and professionally, proving that there’s more than a moral case for equality, but a business case as well where everyone wins.

With the belief that we can all make a difference in building a better future for ourselves and each other, at this year’s International Microwave Symposium, the Women in Microwaves panel will focus on the challenges still facing women in microwaves and how you can help. Symposium attendees are invited to join us Wednesday June 5th Room 162AB from 4-5:00 pm at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

The panel consists of exceptional women who work in different aspects of STEM, have made their mark in the field, and continue to inspire and mentor those around them. The discussion will fearlessly and honestly address the reasons we still need a special event like this despite the progress that has been made for equality. Breaking down barriers that systemically limits and disproportionately affects women can only improve the future of the field of Microwaves.

We hope all IMS attendees—men, women, and high-school students—attend and participate in this panel session, and then continue the conversations at our reception afterward at the beautiful Boston Lookout Rooftop Bar at the Envoy Hotel. We hope to have spirited and informative discussions that will inspire everyone to take the messages and lessons into their lives and make an even brighter future for all those who work in STEM.

You can also check out Bridging the Gender Divide: Guide to Overcoming Broadband Access to be a Woman Leader in STEM.

IMS Committee Co-chairs Janet Nguyen and Erin Bernay were involved in the writing of this article.

Series: Addressing the Gender Gap in Engineering


1. Miller, Claire C. "The Motherhood Penalty vs. the Fatherhood Bonus," The New York Times, Sept. 6, 2014

2. Phillips, Katherine W. "How Diversity Makes Us Smarter," Scientific American, Oct. 1, 2014