Fathers Can Be Gender Equity Advocates

Here's how to encourage daughters to pursue a STEM career

6 min read
A father and daughter smiling at each other with a circuit board on a table in front.

In my article "A Father's Perspective About Daughters and Engineering," published in 2016, I shared my frustration about the lack of role models and the cultural messages that had left my two brilliant daughters—and many of their female friends—with little interest in pursuing an engineering career.

After the article was published, I received an email from Michelle Travis, who was writing a book about dads and daughters. She wanted to know my thoughts about creating a stronger pipeline for girls to pursue a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) career and what could be done to change the narrative about engineering to highlight its public-service role.

Travis is a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, where she co-directs its Work Law and Justice Program. She researches and writes about employment discrimination law, gender stereotypes, and work/family integration. She is also a founding member of the Work and Family Researchers Network and serves on the board of directors of the nonprofit Fathering Together.

Her latest book, Dads for Daughters, is a guide for engaging male allies in support of gender equity. (I was one of the fathers featured in the book.) She has written the award-winning My Mom Has Two Jobs, a children's picture book that celebrates working mothers.

Over the years, we have stayed in touch, followed each other's work, and looked for other ways to collaborate.

In the past few months, I became frustrated by the news of girls from certain countries either not being allowed to go to school or risking their safety even when they were officially allowed to attend. That is one reason I felt I needed to talk to Travis and learn from her about what else could be done to change the way fathers and men in general think about women's abilities and the successes women have had in almost every field including engineering.

Last month I asked her a few questions about her book and about what fathers can do to better support women. In the following interview, she gives a sneak peek of her book and lists several resources for engineering dads who want to encourage their daughters to pursue a STEM career.

QA: Why did you, a lawyer, decide to research and write about fathers and their daughters? Is it personal?

MT: My interest in engaging dads of daughters as gender equity advocates is both professional and personal. I've spent years as a lawyer and law professor using legal tools to advance women's equality in the workplace—seeking stronger employment-discrimination laws, equal-pay practices, and family-leave policies. Over time, I realized that the law has limits to what it can accomplish. I also realized that we've asked women to do too much of the heavy lifting to break down barriers and crack glass ceilings. Most importantly, I realized that progress requires commitment from male leaders who hold positions of power.

I started asking myself how women might engage more men in gender-equity efforts. At the same time, I noticed the powerful effect that my two daughters were having on my husband. He had always viewed women's equality as an important goal, but it wasn't until he started thinking about the world his daughters were entering that he fully internalized his personal responsibility and his own power to have an impact. Having daughters fueled his urgency to act. He wanted to become an outspoken advocate for girls and women, rather than just a bystander.

"Fathers who are engineers are uniquely positioned to become allies for expanding opportunities for girls and women."

Watching this transformation is what prompted my study of the father-daughter relationship. I discovered that my husband's experience was not unique. Researchers have found that having a daughter tends to increase a man's support for antidiscrimination laws, equal-pay policies, and reproductive rights, and it tends to decrease men's support of traditional gender roles. This has significant effects in the workplace. For example, dads of daughters are more likely than other male leaders to champion gender diversity. And CEOs who are dads of daughters tend to have smaller gender wage gaps in their company than in those run by men who aren't fathers.

Of course, many men without a daughter are women's allies, and not all dads with daughters are gender-equity advocates. We've even heard some men—including prominent politicians—invoke their "father of a daughter" status in disingenuous ways.

But most dads of daughters are genuinely interested in advancing equal opportunities for girls and women. This makes the father-daughter relationship an excellent entry place for inviting men into partnerships to build a more equitable world.

QA: Why should people read your book?

MT: Today's dads are raising confident, empowered daughters who believe they can achieve anything. But the world is still unequal, with workplaces run by men, a gender pay gap, and deeply ingrained gender stereotypes. My book celebrates the role that fathers can play in creating a better world for the next generation of girls.

Inspired by their daughters, fathers are well positioned to become powerful allies for girls and women. But in a post-#MeToo world, it can be difficult for men to step in and speak up. That's where Dads for Daughters can help. It arms fathers with the data they need to advocate for gender equity. It also offers concrete strategies for how they can make a difference in a variety of areas, from sports fields to science labs, and boardrooms to ballot boxes.

In addition to being a guidebook, it also shares stories of fathers who have already joined the fight. All the men highlighted credited their daughters for motivating them to focus more on gender equity. They include a CEO who invested in female entrepreneurs to run part of his company's supply chain and a lawyer who created part-time positions at his firm—which keeps women on a partnership track. There is also a head coach who hired the NBA's first female assistant coach. Another is a governor who broke from his party line to sign a bill expanding rights for sexual assault victims. There is an engineer who provided computer skills training to support girls who were victims of India's sex trafficking trade. In addition, there's a teacher, a U.S. Army colonel, a pipe fitter, a firefighter, and a construction contractor, who joined forces to battle for parity in girls' high school sports programs.

All those dads, and many others, were inspired to support gender equity because of their daughters. Their stories can motivate other dads to get involved. Dads who are committed to seeing their daughters achieve their dreams have an opportunity to improve the world that their daughters will enter, and Dads for Daughters will support them on this journey.

QA: What do you think fathers who are engineers can do differently from other dads, and why?

MT: Fathers who are engineers are uniquely positioned to become allies for expanding opportunities for girls and women. We all know that there's a huge gender imbalance in STEM fields. It results in an enormous loss of talent. Dads of daughters can take small but impactful steps in their homes, communities, and workplaces to welcome more girls and women into engineering careers.

At home, fathers can fill their home with books, toys, and activities that empower girls to imagine themselves as future engineers. There are some wonderful resources created by engineering dads for this very purpose. For example, finding a lack of engineering role models for his daughter, Greg Helmstetter created the STEAMTeam 5 book series, which shares the adventures of five girls who tackle challenges with their STEM skills. Anthony Onesto was inspired by his daughters to create the Ella the Engineer comic-book series, which features a superhero girl who uses her engineering know-how to solve problems and save the world.

Other great children's books include Andrea Beaty's Rosie Revere, Engineer, Tanya Lee Stone's Who Says Women Can't Be Computer Programmers? and Mike Adamick's Dad's Book of Awesome Science Experiments. Dads of daughters can also follow Ken Denmead's GeekDad blog, check out the Go Science Girls website, and buy one of Debbie Sterling's GoldieBlox engineering kits for their daughter's next birthday.

Dads who are engineers can have an even broader impact in their community by volunteering with a girl tech organization such as EngineerGirl, TechGirlz, Girls Who Code, Girl Develop It, or CoolTechGirls. These organizations are always looking for engineers to share their expertise and passion for STEM careers with talented young girls.

Engineer dads can also become gender-equity leaders at their workplace. Hiring, mentoring, and sponsoring women is a critical step in expanding women's representation in the engineering field. Dads can further support women by joining programs such as Million Women Mentors or partnering with IEEE Women in Engineering or the Society of Women Engineers. The empathy that dads gain from their daughters can also enable them to create a safer workplace culture by combating hostile work environments and speaking out against gender bias.

QA: From a grown daughter's perspective, what makes fathers different from husbands or friends?

MT: In a recent survey, dads rated strength and independence among the top qualities they hoped to instill in their daughters—which is different from the characteristics that men value most in their wives. From a daughter's perspective, this can make fathers particularly effective allies on their behalf.

When dads are engaged in their daughters' lives, the relationship has a singularly profound impact. Involved dads raise women who are more confident, have higher self-esteem, and have better mental health. Girls with supportive dads have stronger cognitive abilities and are more likely to stay in school and achieve greater financial success. Involved dads also help daughters enter healthier adult relationships with other men.

For fathers, the daughter relationship is a powerful way to build men's empathy skills and increase men's awareness of sex discrimination and gender inequality. For example, men often gain a better understanding of work/family integration challenges while watching their adult daughters juggle career and motherhood demands.

Researchers have found that dads of daughters often have more credibility with other men when supporting gender equity. When people advocate for a position that appears to be at odds with their own self-interest, others often react with surprise, anger, and resentment. These reactions go away if the speaker identifies a vested interest in the outcome. This means that invoking one's status as the father of a daughter can grant men "standing" to advocate for gender equity in ways that get others to listen. Because men tend to pay attention to dads of daughters who talk about the importance of women's rights, that makes fathers particularly strong recruiters of other male allies as well.
The Conversation (0)

Get unlimited IEEE Spectrum access

Become an IEEE member and get exclusive access to more stories and resources, including our vast article archive and full PDF downloads
Get access to unlimited IEEE Spectrum content
Network with other technology professionals
Establish a professional profile
Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
Discover IEEE events and activities
Join and participate in discussions

The Inner Beauty of Basic Electronics

Open Circuits showcases the surprising complexity of passive components

5 min read
A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.
All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

Eric Schlaepfer was trying to fix a broken piece of test equipment when he came across the cause of the problem—a troubled tantalum capacitor. The component had somehow shorted out, and he wanted to know why. So he polished it down for a look inside. He never found the source of the short, but he and his collaborator, Windell H. Oskay, discovered something even better: a breathtaking hidden world inside electronics. What followed were hours and hours of polishing, cleaning, and photography that resulted in Open Circuits: The Inner Beauty of Electronic Components (No Starch Press, 2022), an excerpt of which follows. As the authors write, everything about these components is deliberately designed to meet specific technical needs, but that design leads to “accidental beauty: the emergent aesthetics of things you were never expected to see.”

From a book that spans the wide world of electronics, what we at IEEE Spectrum found surprisingly compelling were the insides of things we don’t spend much time thinking about, passive components. Transistors, LEDs, and other semiconductors may be where the action is, but the simple physics of resistors, capacitors, and inductors have their own sort of splendor.

High-Stability Film Resistor

A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.

All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

This high-stability film resistor, about 4 millimeters in diameter, is made in much the same way as its inexpensive carbon-film cousin, but with exacting precision. A ceramic rod is coated with a fine layer of resistive film (thin metal, metal oxide, or carbon) and then a perfectly uniform helical groove is machined into the film.

Instead of coating the resistor with an epoxy, it’s hermetically sealed in a lustrous little glass envelope. This makes the resistor more robust, ideal for specialized cases such as precision reference instrumentation, where long-term stability of the resistor is critical. The glass envelope provides better isolation against moisture and other environmental changes than standard coatings like epoxy.

15-Turn Trimmer Potentiometer

A photo of a blue chip
A photo of a blue chip on a circuit board.

It takes 15 rotations of an adjustment screw to move a 15-turn trimmer potentiometer from one end of its resistive range to the other. Circuits that need to be adjusted with fine resolution control use this type of trimmer pot instead of the single-turn variety.

The resistive element in this trimmer is a strip of cermet—a composite of ceramic and metal—silk-screened on a white ceramic substrate. Screen-printed metal links each end of the strip to the connecting wires. It’s a flattened, linear version of the horseshoe-shaped resistive element in single-turn trimmers.

Turning the adjustment screw moves a plastic slider along a track. The wiper is a spring finger, a spring-loaded metal contact, attached to the slider. It makes contact between a metal strip and the selected point on the strip of resistive film.

Ceramic Disc Capacitor

A cutaway of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor
A photo of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor

Capacitors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of static electricity. They’re used in countless ways, including for bulk energy storage, to smooth out electronic signals, and as computer memory cells. The simplest capacitor consists of two parallel metal plates with a gap between them, but capacitors can take many forms so long as there are two conductive surfaces, called electrodes, separated by an insulator.

A ceramic disc capacitor is a low-cost capacitor that is frequently found in appliances and toys. Its insulator is a ceramic disc, and its two parallel plates are extremely thin metal coatings that are evaporated or sputtered onto the disc’s outer surfaces. Connecting wires are attached using solder, and the whole assembly is dipped into a porous coating material that dries hard and protects the capacitor from damage.

Film Capacitor

An image of a cut away of a capacitor
A photo of a green capacitor.

Film capacitors are frequently found in high-quality audio equipment, such as headphone amplifiers, record players, graphic equalizers, and radio tuners. Their key feature is that the dielectric material is a plastic film, such as polyester or polypropylene.

The metal electrodes of this film capacitor are vacuum-deposited on the surfaces of long strips of plastic film. After the leads are attached, the films are rolled up and dipped into an epoxy that binds the assembly together. Then the completed assembly is dipped in a tough outer coating and marked with its value.

Other types of film capacitors are made by stacking flat layers of metallized plastic film, rather than rolling up layers of film.

Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

A photo of a cutaway of a Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

At the core of this capacitor is a porous pellet of tantalum metal. The pellet is made from tantalum powder and sintered, or compressed at a high temperature, into a dense, spongelike solid.

Just like a kitchen sponge, the resulting pellet has a high surface area per unit volume. The pellet is then anodized, creating an insulating oxide layer with an equally high surface area. This process packs a lot of capacitance into a compact device, using spongelike geometry rather than the stacked or rolled layers that most other capacitors use.

The device’s positive terminal, or anode, is connected directly to the tantalum metal. The negative terminal, or cathode, is formed by a thin layer of conductive manganese dioxide coating the pellet.

Axial Inductor

An image of a cutaway of a Axial Inductor
A photo of a collection of cut wires

Inductors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of a magnetic field. They’re used, for example, in some types of power supplies to convert between voltages by alternately storing and releasing energy. This energy-efficient design helps maximize the battery life of cellphones and other portable electronics.

Inductors typically consist of a coil of insulated wire wrapped around a core of magnetic material like iron or ferrite, a ceramic filled with iron oxide. Current flowing around the core produces a magnetic field that acts as a sort of flywheel for current, smoothing out changes in the current as it flows through the inductor.

This axial inductor has a number of turns of varnished copper wire wrapped around a ferrite form and soldered to copper leads on its two ends. It has several layers of protection: a clear varnish over the windings, a light-green coating around the solder joints, and a striking green outer coating to protect the whole component and provide a surface for the colorful stripes that indicate its inductance value.

Power Supply Transformer

A photo of a collection of cut wires
A photo of a yellow element on a circuit board.

This transformer has multiple sets of windings and is used in a power supply to create multiple output AC voltages from a single AC input such as a wall outlet.

The small wires nearer the center are “high impedance” turns of magnet wire. These windings carry a higher voltage but a lower current. They’re protected by several layers of tape, a copper-foil electrostatic shield, and more tape.

The outer “low impedance” windings are made with thicker insulated wire and fewer turns. They handle a lower voltage but a higher current.

All of the windings are wrapped around a black plastic bobbin. Two pieces of ferrite ceramic are bonded together to form the magnetic core at the heart of the transformer.

This article appears in the February 2023 print issue.