Gender Equity

Edmund Optics outlines programs to support women in optics and photonics.

01 January 2017

The SPIE Gender Equity Task Force was established in 2015 to identify how the professional environment and culture of the community can better enable equal opportunities, rewards, and recognition for its members, independent of gender.

The task force last year recommended steps that individuals and organizations can take to support those objectives. Those recommendations and other resources are contained in a report, “Women in the Optics and Photonics Workplace.” 

SPIE member Katie Schwertz, a task force member, recently sat down with SPIE Senior Member Marisa Edmund to discuss what policies and programs at Edmund Optics (EO) help to reduce inequities in pay, support work-life balance, and increase women’s access to leadership opportunities in optics and photonics.

photo of Marisa EdmundEdmund (at right) is executive vice president of marketing and sales at EO. Schwertz, an optomechanical design engineer, is an optical research engineer at EO’s Arizona (USA) office and coauthor of the SPIE Press book, Field Guide to Optomechanical Design and Analysis. She is also a member of the SPIE Education Committee.

KS: Can you tell us about some of the innovative programs and policies at Edmund Optics that support families and gender equity in the workplace?

ME: First, Edmund Optics believes that workplace culture is a primary driver of company success, customer satisfaction, and employee happiness. We work diligently to promote four core values: we are one family; we do what is best for the customer; we drive innovation through continuous improvement; and we are proud of what we do.

Edmund Optics offers many innovative programs to promote staff diversity and work-life balance. Some of our most popular programs include daycare reimbursements and flexible schedules for parents. We developed a program where we reimburse 25% of the cost of daycare, and many employees also take advantage of our monthly $10 gym membership reimbursement and other wellness programs offered under our health insurance plan.

To ensure that the workplace and work culture support our core value of “We are one family,” EO hosts several events during the year where staff families meet the “work family.” These include family Halloween parades through the office, a giant family picnic every summer, and encouragement for employees to “Bring Your Child to Work” on the fourth Thursday of April. On 28 April 2016, activities included Susan O’Keefe, EO’s executive vice president of operations, giving a motivational speech on overcoming gender and diversity issues to the many children who visited EO’s facility in Barrington, NJ (USA).

KS: What type of recruiting policies and programs does EO have to ensure a diverse workforce?

ME: EO is very successful in recruiting both male and female engineers. EO is fortunate to be a majority-women-owned company, and more than 30% of the technical staff is female. Job candidates are thus surrounded and interviewed by a very diverse pool of colleagues. EO also has an engineering leadership program that selects two top recruits annually into an exclusive, multi-year training program. Amy Frantz, who was selected in 2015, is now completing a manufacturing engineering rotation through EO Singapore. In 2015, both candidates were women.

EO also supports programs like SPIE Women in Optics and the SPIE Startup Challenge that do an excellent job of promoting both gender and racial diversity in the optics and photonics industry.

KS: What steps has EO taken to ensure equitable compensation and what can other companies do?

ME: It is important to have an on-going audit of compensation for all staff. EO does this annually to ensure fair pay for every staff member regardless of gender.

KS: What programs does EO have outside the workplace to increase awareness about careers in science, technology, engineering, and math?

ME: EO repurposed the Edmund Scientific brand and added a part-time educational outreach manager to our staff. Rebecca Emerich now focuses on extensive outreach programs, free kits to science educators, and training for students at schools and camps. Rebecca, who is certified to teach math, science, and other subjects in New Jersey elementary schools, is also able to give special attention to groups that promote women in engineering.

KS: Why is it important to launch these programs?

ME: Being a role model for correct, ethical behavior is critical to our long-term success. These programs promote our core values and support the most talented, diverse workforce possible.

KS: What effects do you see from these policies (positive or negative) and how did you evaluate them?

ME: We have witnessed positive effects from these policies, and the number of women, specifically female engineers, that we are able to hire is far above industry average. Overall, our turnover is very low, and we have improved it significantly in the last several years, especially among female technical staff.

KS: What kind of a response have you had from your staff?

ME: The staff is very receptive to these policies and programs. And the gender diversity success of our recruiting demonstrates that they are helpful in supporting the needs of both women and men.

KSWhat obstacles, if any, did you face in implementing these policies in your company?

ME: One challenge is managing flexible schedules for those with children, while others without children work a more traditional schedule. It turns out that flexible schedules and work-life balance policies help those with children — and those who might be caring for an elderly parent or sick relative. Creating better understanding amongst staff for the reasons that specific individuals require a flexible schedule can promote empathy and understanding. 

KS: Are there areas you still want to improve or expand around gender equity policies?

ME: There is always more that we can do to promote gender equity and the needs of our staff. We therefore survey our staff annually and request ideas so that we can proactively make changes. We are currently in the process of this survey, which will be available in March 2017.

KS: What advice can you offer to other companies that would like to implement these kinds of policies?

ME: Understand and communicate the core values of your company and your business purpose. Is everyone passionate about this? Can you build policies and programs from these core values that promote a strong culture? Have you listened to the needs of your staff through meetings, surveys, or otherwise? Have you asked yourself what work life balance means at your company, and what can be improved? What is the biggest staff complaint? Have you audited your pay and HR policies to ensure gender-fair practices?

  • Does your company have gender equity policies or programs that you’d like to share with the optics and photonics community? Email us at spieprofessional@spie.org and you may be featured in a future issue of SPIE Professional.
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