Andrea Goldsmith wins award for mentoring women in engineering

Andrea Goldsmith
Andrea Goldsmith, professor of electrical engineering

In addition to her work on wireless communication systems, molecular communication and neuroscience, electrical engineering Professor ANDREA GOLDSMITH spends as much as 10 percent of her time encouraging and guiding budding young engineers and technical professionals, especially women.

Goldsmith has received the 2017 Women in Communications Engineering (WICE) Mentorship Award from the IEEE Communications Society in recognition of these efforts to bring diversity to her field and opportunity to her students.

“It’s a natural role that a professor should be a mentor to their students and postdocs,” said Goldsmith, but her commitment to mentoring both women and minorities stretches from their first year at Stanford all the way into their professional careers.

Part of what drives Goldsmith is the lack of diversity in technology and engineering fields. In high tech, women make up around 30 percent of employees, and fewer occupy engineering roles. The statistics for minorities are even more grim.

“My profession is still not very diverse, which means that underrepresented people in the profession have challenges that other members don’t have. It’s not that they’re not as good – in fact, I think in many cases they have to be better in order to overcome those extra challenges,” said Goldsmith, who is the Stephen Harris Professor in the School of Engineering. “I want the superstars of the field to be able to reach their full potential.”

Pursuing that goal, Goldsmith mentors one-on-one, listening and encouraging younger engineers who might not otherwise find a community that can relate. Expectations, needs and experiences of women in the workplace are different from their male counterparts, she said, and with fewer women in leadership roles, biases are more difficult to overcome. Although she works at the individual level, she expects the impacts will be exponential as her mentees attract and support students or employees of their own.

She also attacks the problem from a wider angle. She is currently heading a newly formed committee on diversity and inclusion in the IEEE that is creating guidelines and best practices for awards, committees and leadership. As co-chair of an upcoming workshop at Stanford, she will be helping a cohort of women begin academic careers in electrical engineering and computer science.

“In engineering, you need to bring new perspectives to solve hard problems. If everybody in the room has had similar experiences, you’re less likely to have as diverse a set of ideas,” said Goldsmith. “I believe in diversity in engineering because I believe that, intrinsically, it’s needed to create the best solutions to engineering challenges.”

Goldsmith is also a member of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute.