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Taiwan's women engineers break into R&D

Posted: 16 Jun 2001 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:taiwan female engineers? women design engineers? ic companies in taiwan?

In a traditional society, men have always occupied more important positions in the work place while women were limited to traditional administrative jobs. But with the growing accessibility of education, more women are now making significant, more noticeable contributions to their companies. Some achievements have lead us to see women in a new light, as in the case of Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

In the male-dominated area of R&D, the role of the female engineer has yet to be given much attention. Since the number of female engineering graduates has been steadily on the rise, a growing number have made their way into the R&D field. What draws these women to the R&D field, where they are still the minority? And what conflicts do they experience with the traditional role that society has assigned them to play?

In the traditional Taiwan industrial setting, a female worker gets considerably less than her male counterpart, in terms of salary, promotions, and opportunities in the company, particularly after marriage. However, in the R&D field of the electronics industry, this situation does not seem to apply to female engineers. One female design engineer, who in this report shall be called Shan Yu, has worked for a consumer electronics design house for many years. "In this industry, you are judged by ability, so I have never encountered any gender discrimination,"she said.

Another woman engineer, Dream Ku, who has worked at well-known chipset maker Via Technologies Inc. for six years, and is the current R&D manager, shares the same view. The two say that because of the extremely competitive nature of the electronics industry, the need to quickly turn out new products has put businesses under great pressure. The most important criteria companies use to evaluate employees are ability and performance?things unrelated to gender.

Both Ku and Yu have more than 10 years of experience and are both married. They are still active in the workplace. Yu entered the semiconductor industry as an R&D engineer just after graduation. In the past 10 years or so at R&D teams in the two or three companies that she has worked with, she was usually the only female engineer. VIA Technologies' Ku had a similar experience, having worked with another female only in the second or third year of her career. In the years that followed, she became the lone female engineer?as is the situation in the department she currently manages.

Why did they choose R&D as their career path? They could not say that it was completely out of interest. In college, Yu's major was electronics?not so closely related to IC technology. But she felt that with the increasing use of electronics in many products, the market demand for ICs would grow, and the industry would be more enduring. She also felt that her personality was more suited to R&D than business. So in the end, she chose R&D as her field. Her female classmates, however, mostly ended up as teachers?a profession most people feel is better suited to women.

Yu became more heavily involved in consumer electronics design. She said, "Although Taiwan's consumer products market is not as big as the PC market, for a small company all it takes is to develop a strong base product and there will be lots of room for growth." Today, for example, there are lots of industrial PCs, small appliances, smart products that need especially designed ICs since performance demands of theses electronic products cannot be met by most products on the market. These needs create opportunities for companies.

As for Ku, it was interest in semiconductors that led her to the R&D field, when most of her female classmates went into industrial management. Ku's line of research has always been in PC-related products, with her first job on OS.

The very nature of the electronics industry requires electronics companies to place a high premium on an engineer's ability to deliver results. While gender is usually not a main consideration, it cannot be denied that most women find that their traditional roles in marriage and the home affect their career growth. In many cases, women engineers find themselves having to making the difficult choice between their jobs and their families.

Ku and Yu are among the female professionals who must face the difficult demands of both home and work. They have made their choices based on individual situations. Overtime and business travels are commonplace for those who work in electronics companies and that these activities are unavoidable in order to accommodate the growth of the company and its regular business needs, says Ku. She adds that her job requires her to come in contact with different customers in many places. And this broadening of her horizons is just one of the extra benefits of the job. Thus, to avoid conflict at home, she emphasizes that a woman must clearly communicate with her partner to gain his understanding.

On the other hand, Yu, striving to take care of her family, arrived at an agreement with her company's management so that she can avoid overtime and business travels as much as possible. Even with the pressures of deadlines, she prefers to take the work home so that she can still take care of her child.

With the dynamic development of Taiwan's electronics industry, many junior colleges have added new electronics-related programs. And because the electronics industry offers more opportunities for employment, more and more females are choosing electronics-related programs as their major course of study.

Present conditions allowing women to enter the R&D field have already greatly improved from how things were 10 years ago. It is easy to predict that the current shortage of R&D personnel faced by Taiwan's electronics makers will be filled in greater numbers by women in the near future.

Tips for survival

When one talks of the engineering profession, the impression most people have is that the field is a men's world and that women do not really make very good engineers?particularly as design engineers. However, Dream Ku, R&D manager of VIA Technologies Inc., says that it is far from the truth as gender does not put into question an engineer's capabilities for R&D work. The R&D field requires logical analytical ability, coupled with a knack for simple numerical calculations. And as long as one has a clear head, no matter the gender, that individual is suited for an R&D position.

Ku manages an all-male team and she does not feel that her being female would bring her difficulty in her job. To be effective, she wisely employs what to her is the most important management tool: communication.

Having more than 10 years of experience in a male-dominated field, Ku knows what it takes for a woman to be successful in the electronics R&D field in Taiwan. According to her, women intending to pursue the R&D field must demonstrate a keen interest in R&D. Otherwise, it will be difficult to stay in this type of work for long.

Also, complete dedication is a must. Hopefuls should completely throw themselves into their work. Everyone knows the high degree of competition in the electronics field. Product life is short and new technologies are constantly overtaking the old. The R&D staff must continuously absorb new knowledge and use it on the next generation of products.

Ku's advice is to gain the understanding and cooperation of one's spouse. Because the job requires such a strong commitment, it is necessary to have the support of a mate on the home front.

? Mike Pan

Electronic Engineering Times ? Taiwan

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