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Seeking women engineers

Duy-Loan Le's father used to whisper in his six-year-old daughter's ear, "One day, you'll grow up to be an engineer."

That's unusual enough for a little girl to hear, but even more so for a little girl in Vietnam, where educating boys is prized above educating girls.

"My father was pretty determined that his girls would have an education," said Le, who came to the United States at age 12. "To this day, I'm still puzzled why."

Somehow that message stuck. Le graduated from high school at age 16 and from college at 19. With a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Texas, she joined TI to embark on what would become a 26-year career in new technology development. She is the first woman at TI to be named a Senior Fellow, the equivalent of senior vice president, on the TI Technical Ladder.

Gears arranged in the shape of a woman's profileWhile law and medicine attract equal numbers of men and women, engineering remains a predominately male field. Only one in five engineering students is a woman, and the number of engineering degrees awarded to U.S. women has remained stagnant for eight years. And the problem isn't confined to the U.S. In Germany, for instance, just 5 percent of engineering graduates are women.

"Today, if you go to some engineering universities across the U.S., you see maybe 20 percent to 25 percent of the students are women," Le said. "But women are pretty creative and they solve problems a different way. And they make up half the brainpower of the workforce."

TI has undertaken a number of initiatives to expand science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for girls and to increase the number of women eligible to enter a university level, STEM-related degree program.  

TI's German site opens its doors to girls from neighboring high schools, showcasing the career paths available to girls who study science and engineering.

In 2002, TI women in the U.S. pooled their own money to begin an education-focused fund. The donor-advised Women of TI Fund, run through the Dallas Women's Foundation, finances programs that focus on getting students into STEM careers and provides resources for high school teachers and counselors to assist them. These monies supplement what our company and the TI Foundation provide to promote STEM programs.

"The low number of women in engineering is a national crisis, and we decided as a group to be proactive and to do something about it," said Tegwin Pulley, TI vice president, Workforce Diversity and Work-Life Strategies. "For the United States to prosper and compete in the global economy, we must enlarge the pipeline of students, and in particular girls, who are motivated and prepared to pursue careers in STEM fields."

Woman engineerThe TI Foundation has also supported the work of the Women of TI Fund by making additional investments in support of its "High-Tech High Heels" strategy, a three-pronged gender equity approach designed to reduce math and science educator biases through gender equity training programs; dispel stereotypes through guidance counselor workshops; and increase girls' confidence via summer physics camps.

In 2008, the TI Foundation issued a $394,000 grant to Southern Methodist University in support of this program. By serving as mentors and role models, as well as offering financial support (more than $400,000 since the fund's inception), TI's women are making a difference.

"Our goal is to open the eyes of young girls to the challenges and rewards of engineering, which has typically been a male-dominated profession," said Shaunna Black, a TI vice president, engineer and founding member of Women of TI Fund. "Girls possess outstanding skills that can make them valuable assets in the high-tech work force. We want to provide avenues to not only discover the opportunities, but also help build self-confidence in math and science that will ultimately make girls successful in the world of technology."

Although the group considers its work to be in the early stages, results are happening. To date, 78 percent more girls are taking the AP exams in North Texas alone (from 74 to 132 students) and 200 percent more are passing them (from 19 to 57 students).

Take a look at TI's social and environmental performance in 2007