We’re posting this article to coincide with today’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, the day – held each Feb. 11 – recognizes the critical role women and girls play in science and technology.
As it has for the past five years, Viasat sponsored the 2020 Grace Hopper Celebration. But this year, the company shifted its focus to supporting 2020 participants through professional development workshops, making recruitment a secondary goal.
Grace Hopper, the world’s largest assemblage of women technologists, spotlights the research and careers of women in computing, and includes speakers, workshops, awards and a career fair. It’s also a way to shine the spotlight on technology as a career path for women. Statistics show women hold only 25% of all the jobs in the tech industry, even though they make up almost half of the total workforce.
“Viasat sponsors and attends Grace Hopper to demonstrate our company commitment to the importance of hiring women in technology, promoting and growing women in technology, and our commitment to diversity as a whole,” said Ashley Gosselin, university recruitment lead for Viasat. “We took the 2020 conference as an opportunity to contribute in a bigger way to women in STEM.
“Instead of just attending, we’re really trying to further the women in technology community. Our focus this year was on helping women professionally regardless of where their future career paths take them. We wanted to provide growth opportunities for our women engineers, and do the same for the community.”
This year’s event was held virtually in October 2020, drawing over 30,000 women from around the world. Viasat will also sponsor the virtual Grace Hopper India Celebration, taking place this February and March. Several of Viasat’s India-based engineers plan to attend.
A total of 25 Viasat engineers participated in the 2020 U.S. celebration, more than ever before.
Over the course of three days, the company hosted networking sessions to speak with women about Viasat career opportunities and provide general career-seeking advice. Viasat also offered four pre-event professional development workshops open to all Grace Hopper participants. Many attendees were undergrad or graduate students, and the company’s outreach was part of an effort to support them in their journey to meaningful employment.
Gosselin said the workshops were especially important in 2020, when the pandemic took an especially heavy toll on working women. Reports show more than 1 in 5 women in the U.S. have left the labor force since the start of the pandemic. Gosselin led a workshop on offer negotiating, aimed at teaching job candidates how to evaluate offers and effectively negotiate for higher salaries.
“Women are more reluctant to negotiate than men are when it comes to job offers, which perpetuates the cycle of pay inequity,” she said. “The workshop offered guidance on how to effectively negotiate, knowing when to stop, and when and how to press on.”
System design engineer Denise Tung gave her insight on big-picture thinking in technical design, including team collaboration and problem anticipation and mitigation. Tung also explained the role of a system engineer to encourage women to consider it as a career.
Software engineer Melissa Plakyda, spoke about ways new grads can continue growing technical skills after graduation to help them keep a competitive edge. The workshop offered a variety of ideas on how to expand knowledge in ways that align with personal and professional interests, while growing a career.
Software engineer Jane Prusakova encouraged participants to find work that brings them not only career progression, but joy. Her workshop also offered tips on building strong work relationships, limiting toxic ones, and finding purpose in everyday tasks.
A rewarding experience
Viasat engineers who attended the conference and helped with the networking sessions said the experience was rewarding.
“The objective in my mind is to reach out to a minority group that we find value in – that being women in technology – so they feel welcome and confident as they move forward in their careers,” said Viasat project engineer Shaudi Kheradmand. “To me, diversity is what brings innovation. The greater the variety of people in your group, the more ideas and different perspectives you’ll get. Having too much uniformity is not going to take you to that next level.”
Viasat software engineer Connie Chiang sees the company’s participation in Grace Hopper as vital not only to its own increasingly diverse future, but the future of women in technology overall.
“Viasat’s attendance says that we support and actively pursue female diversity, as statistically women are underrepresented in computing – in both education and industry,” she said. “I think conferences like Grace Hopper are important because they recognize and celebrate females in tech by giving companies the opportunity to recruit, students the chance to learn about the industry and connect with their peers, and professionals a place to network.”
About Grace Hopper
Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992) was one of the first computer programmers to work on the Harvard Mark I. She was also a United States Navy rear admiral, helped develop COBOL — one of the first high-level programming languages — and invented the first compiler, a program that translates programming code to machine language.