2020 Professional Development Scholar Spotlight: Francesca McDonald


Francesca McDonald

Francesca McDonald’s (BE ’21) interest in technology was first sparked as a child, when she became fascinated by her grandmother’s hip replacement. “I was really interested in . . . not so much the surgery, but the device itself,” she explained. Later in high school, as she became drawn to the computer science field, she realized she wanted to pursue something that would be healthcare-related – “. . .  never wanted to be programming the next Angry Birds,” she noted. So, she chose biomedical engineering because the degree would allow her to explore both – medicine and engineering – and “to look at all of those interests.”

For Francesca, one of the exciting aspects of the tech industry is how fast it changes. She loves the fact that it involves constant innovation – changes are made all the time to make products better and more intuitive, and the possibilities are truly endless.

“It fascinates me because oftentimes the technology has been out in the world for a while but someone comes along with a different way to look at it, a different set of skills, and is able to rearrange the new technology to be something new and exciting.”

Yet, she believes being a woman in the male-dominated field comes with many challenges. One of the uncomfortable realities is that women have their authority questioned at any moment, while men are more likely to be overly confident in their statements and decisions. As Francesca explained, it is often hard for a woman to question a man without injuring his ego. Therefore, she has often found herself “vocally explaining her every move” and providing additional evidence of her judgment and competence when questioning her male peers.

“When [men] do get questioned, it is taken so personally because they are not used to it . . . When a guy questions a girl, it is just seen as ‘double checking’ and normal.”

When it comes to the state of gender equity and representation, Francesca can attest to the fact that the technology field is still a male realm, even though it might seem that women in tech are slowly coming into parity with men. She said it is naive to think that companies are blind to gender. In fact, they often have hiring goals ticking off the diversity checkbox when making their decisions.

“We are either seen as less competent than our male counterparts and don’t get the job, or if we do get the job, it is chalked up to the company wanting to improve their female representation.”

She recalled a conversation she had with an HR manager at Philips, where she is currently in a procurement engineering role. During the Women’s Week event she attended in March, the HR manager told her that they will often try to hire a woman to ensure a diverse executive board. However, as the manager explained to her, the company would never compromise quality of candidates to fit diversity numbers.

“I think women are starting to get represented at a higher rate.”

Francesca has been reminded of the tech industry’s gender disparity, particularly in her computer engineering class. “. . . I go to my computer engineering class and it’s 17 male students, two male TAs, and a male professor and me, the only female in the entire class,” she stated. However, she thinks her major is different from other technology sectors because in the biomedical engineering field, men don’t make up an overwhelming majority. “. . . That one division of engineering is more equal than a lot of other kinds,” she noted.

Finally, she recognizes that pursuing a tech career can be isolating but that does not stop her from being connected to the sense of passion that compelled her toward her field.

“Being a female in technology is obviously hard, but I think when you are really passionate about something, sometimes it is hard to balance it with your social life.”

Francesca’s Thoughts on CWRU Women in Tech Initiative

For Francesca, CWRU Women in Tech Initiative means an opportunity to help women overcome the obstacles they are facing in their pursuit of tech careers. When asked about her expectations regarding the program, she stated she hopes to learn how “to stand out as an applicant and be able to talk negations.”

“[I’m] excited to continue through the program.”