Women of Ericsson: Dr. Sheryl Genco
Genco, an advanced tech group engineer, on how a childhood passion led to an engineering career and an interest in education.
November 8 was National STEM Day, a time to appreciate the value of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. To celebrate the day, we talked to women at Ericsson to learn more about their experiences in the field and the paths they took to the roles they have today. From advice to women entering the field to creative leadership strategies, we’re sharing a look at what goes on behind-the-scenes at Ericsson.
How did you get started in the tech industry?
Growing up, I had older siblings. My brother was known to be the “math kid”, and as the typical younger sister, I wanted to be just like him. I made it my mission to be even better at math!
That interest ended impacting my education and starting me on the path to becoming an engineer. When I was preparing for college, I had a passion for math and science based largely on my successes in school. It was also important to me to try to overcome my family’s economic struggles. When I told my guidance counselor I liked math and always wanted to be able to put food on the table, she pointed me toward electrical engineering. I never thought twice and ultimately completed a PhD in that field.
It’s no secret that women have been historically underrepresented in STEM careers. What was your experience like in school and throughout your career?
In school, I was usually the only girl in my classes, but I was never really aware that I was the only girl in those classes. But I know not everyone has that experience.
One thing I remember very clearly was getting this “Dress for Success” book when I started my first job at IBM. In the 80’s, the idea was that you had to blend in and appear more masculine to fit into these kinds of careers. And that started with how you dressed. Women wore silk ties, jackets with pocket napkins, and pantsuits. It was very prescribed and often very strict. You didn’t want to draw attention to yourself as a woman. Now, it’s very different for women entering the workplace. It’s so much more individual. I see my daughters becoming engineers, but they wear vibrant colours and have colourfully dyed hair and have their own identity. The focus is on their contributions, rather than the ability to blend in.
In recent years, the technology ecosystem has promoted women in technology with a slant toward mentoring early career women. Now is the time to take our advocacy to the next level. So, this year in conjunction with an IEEE conference, we have built a panel to discuss innovations in networks with CTO’s and VPS and Distinguished Engineers – oh, and by the way, they are all women with more than 150 years of combined engineering experience.
I’ve come a long way from the days of silk ties and very much appreciate the evolved attitudes in the workplace. The technical power and strength of the IEEE panellists is humbling.
What are you most passionate about outside of your role?
I’m incredibly passionate about education. Something that still surprises me is that only about 6% of all college graduates – male or female – get a degree in engineering and only 0.7% are electrical engineers.
A few years back, I co-founded a kindergarten through eighth grade public charter school to help prepare students for STEM programs. The enrolment numbers have been fantastic – about 20,000 since its opening. I know how much my STEM education has uplifted me socioeconomically, and so I’m passionate about education in all forms and finding ways encourage others to be brave enough to become engineers.
This year I led the National Spectrum Consortium’s development of its inaugural Women in Spectrum Scholarship to electrical engineering students. Along with the NSC, I am proud to support female engineers who are committed to academic excellence and leadership on their campus. The program is designed to help develop the pipeline of talented women engineers working on issues related to spectrum and communications. We’re looking forward to establishing these scholarship awards as a core part of NSC’s mission for years to come.
What do you like most about your role at Ericsson?
Throughout my career, I’ve always been an innovator. I’m the person who can take an entrepreneurial approach to new programs, and I’ve always been inspired by what technology can do and how it can push us forward.
What I love about my role at Ericsson is that I am close to the actual technology vision and the people making these ground-breaking innovations. My Ericsson role takes advantage of my decades of engineering and leadership experience and brings it all together to advocate for our imagine possible vision. I synthesize information from my experiences and from many places. I consider myself a lifelong learner and continually learn as much as I can. The fun part is finding that entrepreneurial approach to a new use case or to emerging technology. , Ericsson has so many brilliant people, and I’m truly honored to continually learn from so many. It’s been a long road, but persistence and endurance pay off.
Do you have any advice to women entering the field?
Figure it out, and be confident. You got this!