This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Le-Marie Thompson, from Bowie, Md., won a first place prize of $5,000 in USAID and Humanity United’s Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention – responding to the challenge to “develop technologies to better identify, spotlight, and deter intentional or unintentional third-party enablers of atrocities”. The second round of the Tech Challenge opened on March 6.

Tell us about your winning idea and your process for developing this concept.

Le-Marie Thompson is the founder of Nettadonna, LLC, a product development company. Photo credit: Le-Marie Thompson

My product concept is an electronic component validation tool that companies can use when developing new products. The web-based tool would allow companies to verify if the microelectronic components they source from suppliers are produced using conflict minerals –minerals that are mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses. This concept came to being while I was making a decision to change my life path. For over nine years I worked in the telecommunications industry, supporting the development of products and services that solved numerous business challenges.  However, I was restless and could not figure out why. One day in the spring of 2012, I decided that it was time for me to leave my corporate job and figure out something else to do – something that I could be passionate about while still utilizing my skills and experience. I did not know what that would be, but I knew I needed to clear my head first. So I packed up a few things and headed to India to volunteer with street children in New Delhi teaching math, science and English. I came back from India with a renewed sense of the things I cared about when I was a kid – fixing problems and serving others. Those two interests lead me to explore world challenges that may have technical solutions. The first of those challenges I decided to tackle was the issue of conflict minerals being used in electronic components.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a woman working in the field of science and technology?

Some of the major challenges that I have faced have been internal ones, mainly self-doubt and lack of confidence. My challenges with these emotions hindered me in taking the leaps I wanted to earlier in my career. At that time, I did not have the courage to be bold enough to share my ideas with others. Another challenge I had was accepting that I was a risk taker because in my mind, risk takers did not look like me. As a woman from a conservative immigrant background, I am supposed to be the type that plays it safe. But it helps to have a good support system of fellow entrepreneurs that push– those that encourage me to experiment and make mistakes quickly, so that I can continue to innovate.

How can organizations encourage more women to enter the fields of science and technology and nurture this talent?

Organizations can encourage more women to enter these fields by not making it so complicated. Yes, some of what’s done in these fields is technically rocket science, but the disciplines of science and technology do not need to be placed on an unattainable pedestal.   It is not a monumental feat being a woman in these disciplines; in all professional disciplines, there are ups and downs, a core knowledge needs to be gained, and experience comes with time. Earlier exposure to science and technology, like with many other disciplines, will give women more opportunities to see if these fields fits in their life paths. Additionally, organizations should consider moving beyond a “build it and they will come” mentality to a “feed them and they will grow” philosophy.

Learn more about the Tech Challenge.

Le-Marie Thompson is the founder of Nettadonna, LLC, a product development company.