I came to Kodak in 1999 with a liberal arts education and work experience in the legal field. These weren’t necessarily the best credentials at a company immersed in digital imaging and printing technologies. Out of the box, however, opportunities to learn from others abounded.
I quickly learned how a culture built on the foundation of innovation can foster opportunities for women to strengthen their skills in technology and engineering. We need to encourage more high-potential women to invent.
How did professional development for women become important for me? I was given the chance to leave the legal department and work as assistant to the chief financial officer, who took time to act as a mentor. He helped me get my arms around finance—in the context of a highly-complex, global operation. In assigning me to a next role—licensing the company’s fundamental imaging intellectual property—the company took a leap of faith that I could ascend the technology learning curve quickly enough to be successful. I was encouraged and aided in this effort by a host of researchers and inventors who were highly respected in their fields, and generous with their time.
What I came to realize is that the company, the CFO, the R&D community, and other Kodak leaders had “sponsored” my career development. By this I mean I was not only mentored—as in, advised about how to advance—but actually tested with job opportunities of increasing responsibility. I see sponsorship as more prone to action than mentoring is. And, having been sponsored myself, I feel a strong obligation to sponsor other women.
So, in my view, sponsorship and mentoring are critical arrows in our competitive quiver. In addition, we need to be focused on talent replenishment. As Kodak, GE, IBM, and other legacy R&D companies continue to evolve, foundational technologists are retiring or pursuing new opportunities. To identify and attract the next generation of innovators, we need to forge alliances with universities to instill a new sense of STEM urgency.
Beyond this programming, I am deeply interested in the globalization of U.S. education. Given my early involvement in China, I frequently interact with students from Asia who come to the U.S. for high school, college, or graduate studies. They extol the quality of our STEM training but, for many reasons including U.S. immigration restrictions, these bright young women and men graduate and routinely return home to pursue their professional careers. More needs to be done to retain these scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians in the United States to replenish and enrich our talent base and, again, to sharpen our competitiveness as a nation.