In her role as a Vice President of Strategy, Ho Wai Wong-Lam plays an
important role at NXP by helping to shape our strategy. In the second part of
our profile of Ho Wai, we look back on her career choice and the prejudices
she overcame as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field.
one, Ho Wai explained how she decided to study engineering in Hong Kong more
than 30 years ago.
Did your choice to study engineering cause any pushback?
More than 30 years ago there were not many women scientists or engineers.
While my friends, teachers and parents wanted the best for me, some of them
sincerely believed that I was unnecessarily choosing a difficult career not
meant for women and tried to discourage me. My caring teachers told me that I
should drop advanced math because I would never be as good as the boys. They
told me that the world didn’t need female engineers and that I shouldn’t waste
my time. Even my engineering professor, who was a great undergraduate mentor
for me, refused to write a recommendation letter for my graduate school
application because he said that as a woman, a graduate degree in engineering
would destroy my marriage.
Did you also experience resistance during your career?
As a young female engineer, most of the time I was respected as an equal
engineer like my colleagues. However, there were also many occasions when I
was not taken seriously as an engineer. At the beginning of my career at a
different company, some colleagues and managers wrote me off. They didn't
expect a woman engineer would keep working after becoming a mother, so they
figured why waste their time with me. My manager, at the time, sent me a
research paper that examined the “harm” a working mother might cause to her
child’s development. My boss didn’t expect me to return to work after my
maternity leave. At the age of 29 (one year after I became a mother), I was
told by my research director (my +2 manager) that I had reached the highest
grade-level I could expect to attain within the company. He explained that he
needed to tell me so that I wouldn’t have any illusions about my career
prospects. In some meetings with colleagues and partners from outside my
group, they initially assumed that I worked in the cafeteria or as an
assistant, not an equal as an engineer. Years later, an engineer, who attended
a technical training by me, told me quite simply that he didn’t believe that
women could be good at math or be technically proficient. Fortunately, that
was all a long time ago at another company.
How did you deal with all the obstacles?
I didn’t allow myself to become discouraged because I gave my often
well-intentioned colleagues and managers the benefit of the doubt. I tended to
believe that they meant well, but their limited vision was outmoded, that they
simply couldn’t envision the future of gender equality in engineering. I
believed that given time, they would come to reflect and rise above their
gender biases. I remained calm when I respectfully pointed out (explicit and
implicit) prejudices to them. I was not shy about respectfully requesting to
be taken seriously as an equal. I remained confident in myself and my
colleagues’ ability to change with the times, and it paid off!
Bright minds. Bright futures. NXP team members create breakthrough technologies that advance our world.
The future starts here.
What made you persevere?
It was decades ago, a different time with different attitudes. While there
were many subtle and not-so-subtle discouragements in the early part of my
career, I am very grateful to have a supportive husband and a few wonderful
mentors who believed in me all along. My parents also came around to support
my career choice, as their love for their daughter helped them to outgrow
their initial bias. I am glad that nowadays our society encourages girls and
boys to pursue careers in math, science and engineering, as well as other
Despite all the resistance you met as a woman, would you still recommend engineering to young women?
I recommend engineering as a career to young women and men. An engineering
career offers the opportunity to make a great social impact while performing
intellectually interesting work and earning a good living. Engineering gives a
young person a great educational foundation and offers opportunities in future
career flexibility. Starting as an engineer, one can delve further to become
an expert in a specific technical field, become a technical leader or choose
to branch off to other fields such as marketing, sales, IP law, strategy,
business management or entrepreneurship. The critical thinking and
problem-solving skills, the engineering rigor and vigor that one learns as an
engineer can be used in many other disciplines.
Do women bring something different to engineering than men?
My teachers used to tell me that the world didn’t need female engineers. I
realize that my teachers’ viewpoint was limited by their own world and
experience. The results of engineering work are used by everyone in society
(men and women), so a diverse engineering population that is inclusive and
embraces diversity in perspectives and creativity makes our engineering
results better suited to all users.
How would you describe the environment within NXP when it comes to female professionals?
NXP has steadily increased gender diversity over time. We have a good inflow
of women interns, engineers and professionals. However, some female colleagues
still tell me that they sense and experience the invisible glass ceiling in
What do we do well?
NXP is improving our record when it comes to recruiting women throughout the
ranks, but we still have some way to go. In the last couple of years, senior
executive management has started to become more gender diversified.
has become Executive Vice President and part of NXP Executive Management Team,
and two women directors were brought on to our company board of directors.
What do we need to do better?
Looking back to my early career, there were explicit and implicit biases
against women engineers and professionals. I think that explicit gender biases
are largely disappearing or have disappeared in our company. I think that we
(myself included) can become more aware of implicit biases in terms of hiring,
talent identification, career development and promotion opportunities. I will
continue to support NXP to embrace diversity and inclusion, as it is good for
the company and good for all of us as individuals to achieve our true
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is committed to advancing the world by making it safer and more connected. We
pursue our ambitions through technological innovations designed to enhance the
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the while ensuring sustainability and minimizing our impact on the