Gaining Steam in STEM Fields with Kirsi Sangha | Zebra Blog

Women’s HERStory Month Series: “We are Gaining Steam in STEM Fields, But There’s Still a Long Way to Go”

Learn how one “techie” woman earned her stripes in a historically male-dominated sector.

A woman scans equipment in a manufacturing plant using a handheld mobile computer
by Your Edge Blog Team
March 19, 2020

It goes without saying that Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)-based fields have historically been male-dominated. And some still claim today (in the digital age!) that this trend is due to women’s lacking interest in such career paths.  

This is not what we’re hearing from young ladies in the STEM-focused nonprofits that Zebra supports and in our Women’s Inclusion Network forums. We suspect that if you were to ask the women in your life if they agree with this perception, you would also hear a resounding “no.” One of Zebra’s most accomplished women in tech explained why in a recent interview.

Meet Kirsi Sangha, Senior Director of Lifecycle Product Management for our Specialty Printing Group.

Your Edge Blog Team: Kirsi, you’ve spent your entire 22-year career in the technology industry. That’s a long time for anyone to stay in one sector. Clearly you have a passion for STEM. How was your interest in tech sparked and subsequently cultivated?

Kirsi: My dad is a bit of a DIY type, so I grew up tinkering small projects with him. After high school, I sampled a few different STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) fields – including biochemistry – before deciding to pursue an undergraduate degree in Clothing and Textile Engineering. My first job ended up being in telecommunications (quite a 180, right?) and I have not looked back. My parents were always very supportive of my crazy ideas, particularly my desire to travel and study/work abroad. I cannot thank them enough for believing in me!

Your Edge Blog Team: Were there any obstacles or catalysts that you encountered on your technology journey, whether gender bias or something else?

Kirsi: Over the years, I can only recall a few instances in which people may have been surprised to learn I am a woman. My combination Finnish and Indian name does not give away gender immediately, so sometimes people have confessed after meeting me that they were expecting to meet with Mr. Sangha instead! And there was one instance in which someone in a meeting wanted coffee to be served and all eyes turned to me because I was the only woman in the room. However, I have not really felt as though my gender has played a major role in how I have been treated at work. I guess I am fortunate.

Your Edge Blog Team: What has surprised you most in your career as a woman in tech? Why?  

Kirsi: How there are STILL so few women there are in this industry! There is room for more of us! I grew up with two sisters and my parents NEVER made us feel that our choices were limited because we were girls. Tech is fun and exciting, and women are equally talented in STEAM fields.

Your Edge Blog Team: There are several notable women who, throughout history, have demonstrated the incredible contributions that women can make in STEM fields. One of them was Katherine Johnson, the mathematics and aerospace engineer pioneer who played an instrumental role in NASA’s successful effort to put Americans in orbit for the first time. Do you have a female role model?

Kirsi: My tech role model is a former manager from a company I worked at before Zebra. She was the Deputy Managing Director at our engineering site in Beijing, China and, although most higher management roles were occupied by men, her example made me realize early on that women should not settle for anything less. I didn’t have kids at the time, but it gave me comfort to know that she had successfully managed both her career as well as her family with children – with a relocation from Germany to China!

Your Edge Blog Team: If you could give a couple pieces of advice to young women interested in tech, what would they be?

Kirsi:

  1. Be yourself. It is so easy to model after your male colleagues because a) they are likely the majority and b) it sometimes seems like feigning “machismo” is necessary for promotions. This isn’t the case. Winning teams need different perspectives.
  2. Yes, YOU can have it all! We are wired to do it all! The mommy track can sneak up on you … I had mentally put myself on the mommy track while pregnant with my second son. I was not planning to apply for an opening which I knew was a perfect fit for me. My dear colleague Caroline Zepeda, Director of Engineering, gave me a wakeup call. I applied and got the job! With flexible work hours and locations and paternity leave now the standard, you don’t have to choose between being a mother and being a career woman.

Your Edge Blog Team: What are your hopes for the current generation of those in the tech field?

Kirsi: My hope is that my generation will be able to make significant progress in all diversity and inclusion issues so that my sons’ generation will not have to worry about it. Tech is an innovative and progressive field, so we should be cutting edge on this topic as well. Everybody should be accepted by default and judged on their character and contributions, not any other attributes, especially when they have nothing to do with work performance. I am not asking that we brush aside the differences, but that we acknowledge and embrace them.

A Final Thought

The International Women’s Day campaign theme for 2020 is #EachforEqual, which advocates for every person to support gender equality. Not everyone has the same entry point or motivation to pursue equality. All that matters is that we are #EachforEqual. And Zebra is on board, too!

We believe that our people are critical to our business strategy. Our commitment to Inclusion and Diversity is about making sure we have an inclusive culture that provides opportunities for all employees to grow, develop and contribute so that more women like Kirsi can grow and succeed.

We challenge our readers and stakeholders to find out what #EachforEqual means to them. Learn more about the campaign and International Women’s Day here.

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Your Edge Blog Team
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