To mark the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we had the opportunity to catch up with Anne Donnadieu, a brilliant AKKA computer science engineer currently working as a consultant for Schneider Electric in Grenoble.
Anne, can you share a little bit about yourself and what you do, what is a typical day like for you?
I am a biomedical engineer by training, but I’ve been working in the computer science field for 25 years now. I’ve been project manager, PMO and more recently a PO of three applications for a department at Schneider Electric in Grenoble, France. As a PO, I organize the releases of the different applications. I started that new role six months ago and initially I had only one application to manage, but I got two new ones in December, so I’m ramping up on them to be able to support the user and prioritize their request.
I have been working from home for the last three months, and I’ve been told that will remain the case until June at least, so my days are very regular. I start work between 8:00am and 9:00am depending on whether I go running or not, and then I typically take part in a lot of meetings with people all over the world. Obviously I miss my colleagues, so occasionally we have “e-coffees” to try and keep in touch on the non-work side as well, because working from home can eventually be isolating, even though it’s the safer option these days.
When the workday is over, I just shut down my computer and switch to my other life as a mum and a wife.
Did you always know that working in tech was what you wanted to do? How did you decide to go into biomedical engineering?
As a child, I wanted to be a veterinarian - because I liked cats a lot - but in France, this course of study is quite tricky because you prepare for two years for concours (entrance exam in France) and it’s either you get in, or you start from scratch again. So, I attended preparatory classes – known as classe préparatoire in France – and followed the bio stream, but I ended up failing the concourse. Nevertheless, I joined UTC which is a technology University in Compiegne. I had always been interested in math and biology and that was a mix of both subjects, so that’s why I got into that field.
For my co-op while studying at UTC, I spent my work term at INSERM working on therapeutical trials for HIV patients. It was in the early 90s and I was working on what’s known in France as” the Minitel”, collecting the data for their surgical trials which were run throughout France. I started programming those tools for the therapeutical trials, and that’s how I switched from the biomedical to the computer science domain.
Could you name some challenges that you have faced as a woman in STEM?
The most striking incident I remember is when I joined the UTC and on the very first day during the welcoming speech the director of the program at the time said; “This is a bad year, there are 50% of women in this class. Find yourself a husband, girls, because you won’t find a job.” So that was very shocking because I had never experienced anything like that.
Another time I found difficult being a woman is when I had children. At first, I didn’t feel there was a difference between the way I was treated compared to my male colleagues, but after I had my daughter, I clearly felt that the interesting subjects were not given to me. Not because I wasn’t capable, but because to them, I was a “risk”. What if I got pregnant and went on leave again?
Before my daughter was born, I was doing architecture and going on to more and more leading positions. After my leave, I was back to being a senior designer, who was expected to just code whatever she was given. And clearly, I did not have the same interesting opportunities as I did before which was unfair. Meanwhile, my (male) colleague who started at the same time and had the same qualifications as me, kept getting promoted. He even became my N+2 (manager) at some point! Interestingly, all this stopped when I was deemed too old to have more children.
What differences have you noticed between when you first started working in the industry and now?
So, I find that nowadays there are more and more women working in Tech at the upper part of the corporate pyramid. At the company where I work now, there is a really strong workplace equality feeling. I’ve never heard anything that was inappropriate, whereas a few years back, there were a lot of inappropriate so-called jokes. Now, I don’t necessarily think everyday when I’m at work that I am a woman and I should behave differently, or that I’m being treated differently. I don’t feel that anymore.
What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in STEM?
Well, I have a 19-year-old daughter. She’s studying to become an engineer and she does not think that there is any closed door just because she’s a girl. For her being girl is just a fact among others. She’s going for it and I think she’s right. I hope that she will not have to hear things that I’ve heard. I hope she will just be treated as a smart Individual and be given the opportunity to excel in her field. Basically, my advice would be; just be assertive, speak your mind, choose what you feel is right for you, and don’t think that because you’re a girl you can’t do something.