Elaine Harvey ’87 earned her B.S. in Computer Engineering from Florida Tech and is currently Sr. Software Development Manager at Amazon Web Services.
What inspired you to pursue a STEM education and career?
My big brother was my inspiration. He was in high school when I was a young child, and he was very interested in electronics. When my mother would tell him to read to me before bedtime, he would read to me from his electronics textbooks. I think this sparked my interest at a very young age, which was further fueled by my other siblings teaching me about various interesting things (like fractions and decimals when I was 5 years old) and having a general interest in science, chemistry and physics. Interest in STEM is infectious.
What do think are some of the most shared/common challenges women in STEM fields encounter?
I think there are two significant interacting challenges. First, there is still some credibility gap. Although this has improved dramatically over the 3 decades of my career, there are still cases where a woman’s ideas are less easily accepted than that of a man. This combines with the early cultural training many females experience to be ‘good,’ which really means to be compliant and to avoid conflict. In our industry you have to be prepared to stand up for your ideas and sometimes this means embracing conflict. I’ve seen many female engineers (and some male engineers) struggle with this.
How have you overcome obstacles/challenges as a woman in STEM?
Be willing to take the leap and do something that you are not sure you can do. Push your own boundaries. Control the things that are under your control, which is mostly your own behavior.
Knowing what you know now, what advice you would give your younger self?
I would tell myself to think clearly about what I want out of my career. To understand my goals, and to stop seeking praise. Getting praise is nice, but getting a raise is better.
What is an aspect of being a woman in STEM you were surprised to discover?
Being female and strongly technical is actually a career advantage. So many companies are trying to increase their diversity, so if you are qualified you will find some doors open more easily to you because you are female. Is this fair? Strictly speaking probably not, but it helps balance out some of the impediments, which is the point. Be awesome, work hard, and take your skills to a company that values you.
In your experience, what are the top things leaders could do to encourage more young women to enter STEM fields?
Start young. Try to get more girls interested in STEM at an early age by sharing your enthusiasm with them.