Tech pioneers: Kendra Kreutz, Meng Xie and Kari Myrland (from left) have found success in the male-dominated STEM professions.
Kendra Kreutz took a few left turns to end up in engineering. After earning a bachelor’s degree in music, she realized how many other interests she had, especially in subjects that involved problem solving.
“I am that person who time-studied unloading the dishwasher based on a variety of loading techniques,” she notes dryly. Kreutz pivoted from music to enter the graduate program at UW-Madison in industrial and systems engineering. Afterwards, she worked at Epic Systems, Dean Health System, MedDrop and Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. She now runs her own consulting firm.
Despite her professional success in STEM — the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math — Kreutz has had to navigate the difficulties of being a woman in these male-dominated careers. In Madison in 2015, it’s not hard to find women in STEM careers, but men still dominate the fields. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 27.8% of the STEM jobs in Wisconsin are held by women, slightly worse than the national rate of 28.8%.
Kreutz agrees obstacles remain for women in the male-dominated STEM industries.
“I’ve worked mostly in the health care industry, where there are more women in leadership positions overall,” she says. “However, some places I’ve worked, colleagues have said to me, ‘I want a five-year projection for these multiple departments on these project variables — and get me a cup of coffee when you get a chance.’ I have a natural tendency for leadership, and that has definitely made others nervous. And there are obstacles in myself, too. In a room full of men, how many times have I not spoken up because of all of the times before when my opinions were shut down?”
Meng Xie sees it a bit differently. She grew up in China, where she received her bachelor’s degree in computer science, then a master’s degree in computer science from UW-Madison. She now works at the UW Foundation. “I had strong parents and societal influence on how important science and math skills are for a future career at an early age in China — if you are a girl or a boy,” she says. “Coming here offered the opportunity for computer science work. But there is an obvious glass ceiling, no matter how hard you work and how good you are.”
When asked what roadblocks she has had to face, Meng Xie minces no words. “A lack of role models and career mentors is the biggest obstacle in my career. Software programming tends to be a male-dominated career, and it is hard for a minority female to break in. A strong female player gets less acknowledgement and promotion opportunity than the average male. I have to work very hard, stay very focused, and learn new skills constantly. I missed out on a lot of fun time just being a girl, and relaxing.”
Kari Myrland has degrees in sociology and archaeology, but has been in technology for more than 25 years. Recently she was responsible for IT functions at the UW Foundation and at Promega.
“My tech career started in telephony and network sales,” she says. “Later I had the opportunity to lead the software development division at Berbee. Through both experiences I found myself at the intersection of business strategy and technical solutions.”
She doesn’t think that the main issue is the inherent sexism in technology, though: “The biggest obstacles have been fear and doubts about my own ability.”