Bolster the Ranks of Women Engineers


Here’s a question in search of an answer:
We have a great number of women in cable and we have a
great number of engineers. So why is it that we have so few
women engineers?

In a field that is dedicated to finding the right solution to
any equation, the lack of women engineers is a
puzzle that even our best minds have been unable
to work out — even as careers for women
have flourished across virtually every other segment
of the industry.

Despite the best efforts of many in cable, the
representation of women within the our engineering
community remains disappointingly
small: Membership in the Society of Cable Telecommunications
Engineers, for example, is only
6% female, and the female-to-male ratio shows
no sign of changing anytime soon.

Thus, at a time when technology is driving
new business opportunities in such areas as multiplatform
distribution, advanced advertising and business
services, a significant source of engineering thought
leadership is unavailable to cable system operators, programmers
and vendors.

To be sure, the problem is not unique to cable. A study last
year by the University of Wisconsin found that “nearly half
of women left a career in engineering because of working
conditions — too much travel, lack of advancement or low
salary. More than two-thirds are working in another field;
half of those are in executive positions.”

This exodus not only deprives the business community
of knowledge and innovation, but also creates the erroneous
implication that careers in engineering are not a good
fit for women. What’s more, the underrepresentation of
women engineers can blunt the satisfaction of successful
women by burdening them with the responsibility of
addressing the gender gap themselves.

Fortunately for cable, new approaches are being
initiated by a cross-section of our industry, including
SCTE and such leading women as Nomi Bergman, president
of Bright House Networks; Yvette Kanouff , president
of SeaChange International; and Maria Brennan, president
and CEO of Women in Cable Telecommunications. Together,
these players are striving to implement new opportunities
to nurture growth for women within cable.

At the SCTE’s Cable-Tec Expo last year, SCTE
and WICT began to partner on an expanded
set of activities, including the “Tech It Out” program
that spotlights opportunities for women
in technology, as well as “Women’s TechConnect,”
a mentoring program co-founded by
Bergman and Kanouff .

At the same time, SCTE has redoubled its
commitment to progress by incorporating diversity
and inclusion into new and existing
programs. These include sessions for women
during the second annual SCTE-Tuck Executive
Leadership Program at Dartmouth College and the inaugural
SCTE Georgia Tech Management Program, as well
as the SCTE Leadership Conference in April.

Finally, we’re creating specific initiatives to drive diversity
and inclusion on the board, committee and chapter levels;
we’re working closely with other industry associations to
accomplish similar ends, and we have instituted a Diversity
Council chaired by prominent women in the industry that
will help to identify programs that can support the needs of
diverse groups.

While none of the above will change the dearth of women
engineers overnight, it is important that these steps — and
more to come — are being taken to address the situation.
It is our hope that in the long term, these efforts can create
an environment that enables cable to attract and retain not
just women, and not just engineers, but that needed group
of contributors — women engineers.

Cathy Oakes is senior vice president of operations for the
Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers.