Need Inspiration? Here are 13 Ted Talks for Female Engineers

It’s International Women in Engineering Day 2019, and today we want to share with you the stories of inspirational women in engineering, as well as other great talks that can help you in your career.

Today, we’ll focus on Ted and Tedx Talks for our inspirational medium because they are perfect for the busy engineer: they are to the point, engaging, and a perfect length for listening or watching on your commute or during a break.

We’ve included a quick description of each talk, as well as who should watch. If you are a professional, educator, manager, or student, you’ll find some talks below we picked specifically for you!

Why do ambitious women have flat heads? | Dame Stephanie Shirley

Dame Stephanie Shirley is the most successful tech entrepreneur you never heard of. A Jewish refugee from WWII in the UK, she founded a pioneering all-woman software company in 1960’s, which was ultimately valued at $3 billion, making millionaires of 70 of her team members. She talks about she called herself “Steve” in her business development brochures so she could get in the door, and that she specifically recruited women who had taken a break when they had children to work for her, and other women who faced barriers in tech.

Despite having an autistic child and facing routine sexism, she never gave up, and she paved the way to give opportunities to others. Her lessons on choosing your partner carefully, and surrounding yourself with people you like and can learn from, are valuable today. This talk is inspirational, engaging, and hilarious in parts.

My immigration story | Tan Le

Tan Le is the CEO of Emotiv, a neuroinformatics company advancing understanding of the human brain through electroencephalography (EEG). Her family separated and fled Vietnam to Australia as a child, where she excelled in school. Although her degree is in law, she found herself drawn to technology, and started her own technology company at the age of twenty-three.

The link above is her immigration story. If you’d like to hear more about her company and work today, click HERE to watch an episode of the Brave Ones where she is featured.

This might be the most inspirational story on our list, and a reminder that the right mindset and support system can overcome anything.

3 lessons on success from an Arab businesswoman | Leila Hoteit

Dr. Hoteit holds a PhD in electrical engineering, as well as an MBA. She is the Managing Director and Senior Partner of Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Dubai. She is a mother of two, and the lessons she shares about resilience, joining forces with other women, and raising two children in an Arab culture that has more rigidity than Western cultures when it comes to gender roles are valuable to any professional engineer trying to figure out how to navigate work, gender bias, or a professional career with children.

Engineers with children and anyone dealing with gender bias will find her take on these subjects both helpful and applicable to your own career and life (even in the US).   

Why we have too few women leaders | Sheryl Sandberg

This is the 2010 classic Sheryl Sandberg Ted talk. Sheryl is the Facebook COO. In this talk, she talks about why they are too few women at the top and what we can do about it. If you are a female engineer, a parent of a female engineer, or a coworker or manager of female engineers, this is a must-watch talk.  


Know your worth, and then ask for it | Casey Brown

Are you being paid what you are worth? Many engineers (men and women) answer “no” to this question, which is the reason we selected this talk, which approaches getting paid what you’re worth from a business approach.  

She talks about the gender wage gap, but she does it from the perspective of learning how to take responsibility to communicate your own value to your clients and managers. This talk is for engineering professionals who want to own the value you bring to work, and be compensated accordingly.

The Untapped Genius That Could Change Science for the Better | Jedidah Isler

Jedidah Isler is an astrophysicist who studies blazers, which are supermassive black holes. She has several Ted talks; we selected this one because she documents her personal journey, including how she has been marginalized as a woman of color in STEM. She is the first African-American woman to graduate with a PhD in Astrophysics from Yale. Her uplifting message to other women of color that they can be anything they want to be is inspirational.  “Hold fast to those dreams,” she says. “And let them carry you into a world you can’t even imagine.”

Dr. Isher discusses how the biggest challenges of our time requires an intersectionality of both disciplines and people, and that this intersectionality brings not just new perspectives, but new innovations.   

Inspiring the next generation of female engineers | Debbie Sterling

Debbie Sterling is an engineer and founder of GoldieBlox, a toy company out to inspire the next generation of female engineers. Debbie’s Tedx talks busts myths about boys being naturally better than girls at math, her experiences in college being one of the few women, and documents her journey to becoming an engineer and toy company founder.

This is a great inspirational talk for current and future engineers, including students of all ages considering engineering as a career.

How we teach computers to understand pictures  | Dr. Fei-Fei Li  

Dr. Fei-Fei Li is an Associate Professor in the Computer Science Department at Stanford University and acts as the Director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab and the Stanford Vision Lab. She studies machine learning, computer vision and cognitive and computational neuroscience.

This talk is about Dr. Lei-Lei’s research teaching computers how to understand pictures. One of the most inspirational things about her talk is that she doesn’t just show her findings that worked, but the failed experiments too. She also talks briefly about how she used her dry-cleaning store to fund her college education.

If you are interested in computer engineering, artificial intelligence, or want a real-world example of someone who has failed and continued forward, you’ll enjoy this talk.  

The power of vulnerability | Brene Brown

Brene Brown isn’t an engineer, but her work is relevant to any engineer who aspires to lead herself or others. In this talk, she discusses how strongly shame, and particularly a sense of “not being worthy” (aka imposter syndrome) is directly correlated to our sense of belonging and connection within a group. She notes that those who feel worthy, “have the courage to be imperfect”, “have the compassion to be kind to themselves and others,” and they “have connection as a result of authenticity.”

This talk is funny, engaging, relevant, and eye-opening for anyone who has experienced the feeling of not being good enough. It’s one to share with both your engineer and non-engineer friends.    

The Rise of Personal Robots | Cynthia Breazeal

Dr. Cynthia Breazeal holds a PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT, and is the Founder & Chief Scientist at Jibo, Inc. This talk is from 2010, where she describes her work at MIT in creating personal robots that are socially intelligent, (i.e., those that can interact and communicate with people in human-centric terms). She also talks about building Kismet as part of her PhD research, the world’s first social robot. and the promising benefits of having personal robots in our very homes.

Although this talk is from 2010, we found it inspirational due to the pioneering nature of the subject. She talks about the promising benefits of having personal robots in our homes, which is now becoming more mainstream. The last line of the talk “For me, robots are all about people.” speaks to any engineer who wants to do work that has an impact.

Growing up in STEM - as a girl | Cassidy Williams

Cassidy Williams is a currently a Senior Software Engineer at CodePen, and gave this Tedx talk when she was a student at Iowa State University. She has been featured in Glamour magazine as one of the 35 Women Under 35 Who Are Changing the Tech Industry and has worked at Amazon as the Head of Developer Voice Programs, where she worked on Alexa.

She details how, as a student, she traveled to conferences and hack-a-thons and set about building her network and creating a name for herself by doing what she enjoyed. She details what she did each summer in college to set herself up for career success, and emphasizes how finding something you are passionate about is key.

This talk is engaging and a must-watch talk for students.

Teach girls bravery, not perfection | Reshma Saujani

Reshma Saujani is an Indian-American lawyer who founded Girls Who Code. Reshma makes a powerful case for how women are socialized to be perfect and not take risks, and how this holds us back both in our careers and in our lives, particularly in STEM. She makes the case that teaching girls and women to be comfortable with imperfection and un-socialize them from being perfect is required for both innovation and to move society forward.

This is a must-listen for any engineer who prides themselves on perfectionism. Educators and managers may also find it helpful as a social commentary, especially if you have a high-performing young woman who appears to lack confidence and you aren’t sure why.

Inspiring the next generation of female engineers | Morgan DiCarlo

Morgan DiCarlo is an undergraduate Civil Engineering student with a Business Management minor in the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program at Stony Brook University. Her talk discusses the importance of mentorship in helping young women become engineers and details the hands-on programs she has created to do just that. Her story demonstrates how college students can help inspire girls to pursue STEM professions, even before they start working in the industry.

If you are a student or teacher, you’ll find this talk particularly inspiring.  

Those are the inspirational talks for today! Comment below if you have a favorite, or if there’s one missing from our list you would recommend.