People of Intel – Patrizia Odierna

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Patrizia Odierna,
Manufacturing & Product Engineering (MPE)

My husband Davide and I are Italian and engineers (I am a physicist but working as an engineer), and we had always wanted to experience living and working abroad, and so when we saw the opportunities with Intel, we jumped at the chance. Our daughters Elena and Greta were five and two so it was perfect timing. That was about 16 years ago, and of course even though we speak Italian at home, our children speak with Irish accents (and even text their friends in Irish so we can’t read them!).

One of the things I immediately noticed here in Ireland was that, as in Italy, there is a significant gender disparity in engineering and the study of STEM subjects. I view some of the most important work I do, is encouraging and supporting women in the field of engineering because it is not an easy path.

As a mum and a woman I know how you need flexibility in all areas of working life, but in engineering I can see why it can put women off. Under lockdown I really saw the possibilities of being both a professional as well as a present parent, working from home. My eldest daughter had been living on college campus but now I have her home and feel I’ve gained an additional year with my children. It was obviously tough on so many levels but I’m grateful for this time with my family. Davide and I were still really busy with work, but to be able to have lunch as a family, and have longer evenings together felt like a gift.

Despite both their parents being engineers, and both being good at maths and physics, our daughters have gone down different routes. Elena is studying bio medical science and Greta is more into the arts. I have found it frustrating that they weren’t encouraged more in the study of sciences, even when they were keen. Greta had studied graphic design, physics and engineering at school and she was the only girl in her class. She was told by teachers she might struggle to keep up, was given no encouragement and she was always on her own in class. She did well because she liked the subject and because we were there to help and support her, but can you imagine how hard it must be for a girl to study STEM when they might not even have that encouragement at home, or from teachers? When girls are a minority, as everyone else in that situation, they need to be encouraged and supported, and that is why I am so passionate about the work I do in trying to create a better gender balance, because I believe a better gender balance (and all diversity) brings a better perspective and opportunity to look at engineering problems in a different way.

We struggle to find female engineers, and at the moment I’m the only female manager in my department. I work with the Women in Technology project which was started in 2010 in Intel Ireland, and since 2016 every year my business group – MPE – sponsor two girls to study engineering through college, and also offer a 10-12 week summer internship. That’s been more challenging the last year or so with having to do everything online, but I’ve worked hard to give them a sense of belonging, because I know first hand how hard it feels when you are isolated.

That’s why I also run a group mentoring programme for junior female staff in Intel called Press For Progress. We meet once a quarter, and try to empower them with communication skills, and encouraging them to speak up in meetings where they can often be the only woman present.  Because we are a minority, I think it’s critical we create a network to support each other. To give an example, I was shocked when I met one young woman who was the only girl in the team and was often on shift work of 12 hour nights or 12 hour days. She felt really isolated because the guys were meeting for breakfast and lunch and she wasn’t involved in the conversation. Through mentoring she met other women in different teams but doing the same shifts so they could meet for lunch and breakfast. In my early career I’ve experienced not feeling able to speak up in a team of men, or having to repeat an idea several times before being taken seriously or being heard. It took me time to build up my confidence, and now I see that my differences are what make me an important contributor whereas when I was younger I saw it as a fault. I could really have done better with a mentor and so my goal is to make sure younger women understand the importance of their point of view earlier.

I delivered a talk recently on inclusion and leadership explaining how leaders need to actively encourage everyone by bringing forth minorities and those who don’t speak up naturally, to give them a platform and ensure an environment that values everyone. I really believe we have to start down at the school level, to show how the science is applied. MPE sponsor a STEM programme where we invite a Science secondary school teacher to come and do a summer internship, so they can bring back the learnings into the school about the extraordinary possibilities that engineering has and how much it impacts all of our lives. That investment in one person can influence a full class of girls for many years, so I hope we can do more of that. It is up to companies like Intel to encourage and invest in schools and create an environment that makes it an attractive option for girls.

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