Seeking Parity and a Seat at the Table for Everyone

A Rochester Electronics Discussion with Jackie Mattox, CEO and Founder of Women in Electronics

Rochester Electronics is a proud sponsor of Women in Electronics (WE). WE was founded in 2017 to offer a sense of community and provide development, and unity with colleagues to advance results in gender parity in the electronics industry and related end-user markets. WE is focused on four organizational goals: empower, advocate, develop, and celebrate by providing leadership growth and development, mentorship, networking, thought-leadership events, and career resources.

Women in Electronics, CEO and Founder, Jackie Mattox, recently sat down with the Rochester Team to discuss her background, what inspires her, and the future of WE.

Rochester: Can you talk a bit about your background and experiences that led to the founding of Women in Electronics?

I grew up in California, in L.A. and I wanted to go into broadcast journalism. That was always the goal, I wanted to be on the news because I’ve always had a passion for people and their stories. I wanted to get to the heart of social issues and learn the motivating factors behind peoples’ “why”. I went to college for journalism, and I started my career there and I loved it. But then some unfortunate family circumstances happened, there were changes in my family, and I needed a more stable income and benefits. I fell into Electronics for the income initially, but I stayed long-term because of the people. It has always been about relationships. I started as a rep and eventually moved to the OEM side of the business. I was not an engineer and didn’t have that background, but my customers taught me about innovation, and that’s where my excitement for the industry was born – at the design table. Eventually, I learned how to design-in products for end-user systems, but also learned the navigation that was needed in the supply chain to make it all happen. It’s interesting to note that if you take a step back and look at things from a different perspective, the industry tends to only want to hire engineers for technical sales roles, but I feel like a lot can be learned from bringing in different types of backgrounds, like my own. We are all mostly the same level of IQ, so with some technical training, “people-orientated” talent with passion and motivation can be a winning model in the field.

After years in the industry, I found myself attending executive conferences and seeing that I was the youngest in attendance and one of the only women. I took time off to raise a family and 15 years later I returned to the same employer. They were excited to have me back, and I was excited to be back! Very quickly they began sending me back to executive conferences.  I will always remember the moment when I walked in for the first time after so many years to see the same faces and realize that I was still the youngest and still one of the only women.  Fifteen years had passed, and nothing had changed. This was when I realized change was needed. This was the stirring in my soul and spark for WE. I began asking, “Where is the diversity?” “Where is the succession?” In 2017, I aligned with Monica Highfill and Amy Keller to form the WE Executive Team. From our first conference in 2017 with only 20 women, who knew at that time that just seven years later, WE would unite the industry, growing globally under a common premise to advance women into leadership roles in all technology-related industries.

Rochester: Did you experience pushback?

Yes.  We have had to overcome the misconception that we were only pro-women and therefore anti-men. Nothing could be further from the truth! WE was always focused on inclusion and personal accountability. What we encountered was that women can also create obstacles for other women when it comes to advancement, because there are very limited seats at the table. WE’s current direction is the concept of WE United. We want to align with male colleagues and make room for as many people as possible at the table. We’re focused on development for all and accountability for all. Ironically, some of the best-intentioned people can make the most mistakes when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Data also shows us that as more women are in leadership roles, the more the industry expands. The 7 superpowers of men and women are not exclusive, but they complement one another. The data shows that parity at the leadership table increases relative returns by 19%, and that is enough reason for everyone to pay attention! WE is not just a feel-good movement, there are solid financial reasons for companies to participate.

7 Superpowers of Women

7 Superpowers of Men

Rochester: What is the biggest challenge for women in the electronics industry?

It takes women much longer to advance. Women often come in at a lower pay grade and, as a result, advance at a slower pace. It can take years longer for women to advance in their careers. Because of this, we’re also losing a lot of younger people to other industries. I never saw myself as a CEO of an organization, but I had an experience one time that sparked something in me. I was at an executive event and saw a fantastic female speaker, which I had never seen before. At that moment, I realized I was thirsty for something but didn’t even know until I had a sip of water! She was inspiring to me because she naturally encompassed a feminine leadership style that exuded poise, grace, and strength. I left my seat to run after her as she left the stage. Many women in male-dominated industries who reach higher-level leadership roles may feel the need to fit in and lose their femininity in the process. The irony is that women can capitalize on their feminine superpowers of empathy, compassion, kindness, collaboration, grit, etc., and be taken seriously in leadership roles. This speaker portrayed everything I thought a woman in leadership should be, and it made me realize that education was needed because we all needed more of this! someone who looks like you, and makes you see that you, too, can be a leader. That same speaker inspired me to aspire higher than I imagined years later, her organization became one of our first corporate sponsors. She has also held a position on our Advisory Council since our inception, being the true model for what it looks like for women to support other women.

Many leaders in the industry have never had unconscious bias training, and data indicates that individuals become less coachable as they advance in their careers. So, we’re focused on that top-down bottom-up educational approach.

Rochester: How big is Women in Electronics now?

WE has 1400 members currently. We’re finding as more men join the organization, especially younger men, that they need mentorship too. Especially since there is such an age gap in our industry. They also feel left behind and need a place to fit in. Women in Electronics is about empowerment and accountability for all. I believe in keeping it simple. The topics of diversity and inclusion do not have to be as complex as we make them out to be. Validation and honest discussions are essential to be able to grow together within organizations and collectively as an industry.

Rochester: What are your current and future plans for Women in Electronics?

We are currently focused on growing our membership in Europe and growing our chapters in EMEA. In 2023, we had a summit in the UK and recently an event in Munich. There was great enthusiasm for our Munich event; we even had to look for a larger venue after passing the capacity at the original location. We had attendees from all over Europe. We’re about two years away from expanding to Asia, but that is also a focus. Some of our key pillars are leadership development, mentorship, and growing our community and local chapters. At least once a month we offer a professional development webinar, and once a quarter a talk focused on work-life balance topics. We’re looking to eventually expand the language options and capabilities for our website. However, we need more funding to expand in certain areas. We track our members’ engagement with our programs, particularly our online webinars, to gauge their interests and grow our programs accordingly.

We are also working on educational outreach at colleges and universities with a focus on STEM program support, and this will be a growing area for WE.

Our mentorship program is vital for women. Men more often find mentorship support in informal social settings, and women far less so. So having the ability to participate remotely in an organized professional mentorship program, can offer women more advancement opportunities. What we’ve also found is that companies who just “threw money” at diversity and inclusion to check a box, and do not invest in concrete training programs and mentorships, often fail at growing their diversity.

Rochester: How do diversity initiatives impact a company’s innovation?

Diversity and inclusion initiatives are a game changer, and diversity is a spectrum. As we see with profits, innovation increases with diversity. This is one of the main “whys” for having inclusion. Women in Electronics was built on the premise of women working collaboratively to find inspiration, strength, and empowerment through a sense of community. We help people in companies build authentic programs and really “do the work” so that the organization expands with diversity. When you introduce an individual who is empowered and thinks differently to a group of like-minded people growth happens and this is when new ideas are introduced. This is the heart of it.

Rochester: Thanks for sharing with us, Jackie. We are honored to support Women in Electronics; by partnering together, we work to listen, learn, and advocate to create a better work future for all.

Women in Electronics is a 501c3 non-profit, social impact organization that ensures inclusivity for anyone who would like to be a part of their mission.

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