To celebrate International Women's Day and Women's History Month more broadly, the SN Women Network asked several female scientists to share what inspires them, what challenges they faced and still face, what advice they have for women and girls interested in science, and more. We’re honored to feature their inspiring stories. Happy Women’s History Month!
Here we interview Margaret J. Lyons.
I think there was little question that my life would involve STEM. In my early education, I loved the math/science classes and endured history, English and social sciences. I did do well with the mechanics of English and learning foreign language. One of my teachers suggested to my parents it was because I saw languages as a sort of code…I guess anything to get it back to my comfort zone. I was fortunate, my father absolutely encouraged my STEM tendencies and to my recollection was the one who suggested that I study engineering, especially computers – he felt they were going to be BIG.
My family, were clearly mentors. My parents – it was their role to help shape me, and like good artists, they were open to seeing what was inside and helping that come out. My sisters certainly helped mentor me about choices in education – from selecting high school courses and the college selection process. A High School math teacher – well, all of them, really, but there’s one in particular – she saw my aptitude for math, but was surprised I was not in the higher math track. The reason was that I had transferred from one school system to another and I was behind. This teacher worked with the administration and another teacher (also female…hmmm) to tutor me in Algebra II, while I was taking Geometry, so that I could catch up the year and take calculus by the time I was a Senior. I am absolutely certain this was instrumental in my successes in college engineering studies.
I don’t know that I have a good perspective on this topic. In my early career, I was more likely to view pushback as relating to my youth and inexperience, rather than my gender. I suppose it’s likely that pushback was due to both. I chose my perspective as the one that would quite naturally change – and that my work would speak for itself. That worked out for me, but for some women it is more blatant and the antagonists will not view women or the work we do as equal. I did work for a manager in the early 1990’s who was clearly disinclined to see the value in diversity…however, he valued good work and a productive team more than his own outlook, and bent over backwards in terms of raises and promotions to “hide” his negative views. So, unexpectedly, he wound up with a team that was predominantly women and minorities & made sure we were earning equal to our white male peers. That doesn’t mean he was easy to work with.
Go for it! Working in STEM is intellectually engaging and stimulating. It’s work, not vacation, but you are reasonably well paid and can reasonably enjoy what you do.
Ah- looking for Shangri-La. Here, I’m going to take one step back from STEM, and say that society needs to value child-rearing and care-taking more highly. That in turn will provide lasting change in equality. My observation, growing up in the USA in the 1960s and 1970’s, coming of age in the 1980’s and 1990’s, looking at my environment today – women left the home for work outside the home (by choice or by economic reality), and either continue to bear the larger share of childrearing and caregiving, or pay other(s) to fill much of those roles…but it seems no one want to pay the childcare and caregiving workers well. In this society, we don’t seem to value this – if you follow the money. Teachers aren’t paid well either, and much of public education, here, is treated as daycare with some education thrown in. It’s not just Diversity & Inclusion in STEM that makes lasting change – it’s truly valuing the necessary contributions to our human family.
Within the STEM fields, women could stand to be celebrated more overtly in the T and E categories. Also, as inventors!
Just trying to do the best I can with the hand I’m dealt. I was dealt a reasonable good hand and was smart enough to take advantage of the educational and economic opportunities afforded to me. Very early in my career, I had the chance to fill out a mentor/protégé questionnaire – from the mentor perspective! I couldn’t imagine that I had anything to offer. The exercise showed me that I did and I have tried to bring that forward and always have my hand & heart reaching out to help the next one up.
Margaret J. Lyons, PE, has more than 30 years’ experience in wireless communications, including: two-way radio, paging, and microwave radio systems engineering and consulting. Skilled in needs assessment, conceptual design, specifications, project and program management, procurement, funding, implementation, testing and operations. RF expert