A 2021 women’s leadership study from LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. found that American women held 41% of corporate management positions, and women continue to fight underrepresentation when it comes to board positions and CEO roles. They also face gender bias, harassment, and opposition to their management styles.
Here’s how one MIT alumna has pushed back on those statistics and used what she’s learned along the way to help those behind her.
Marina Hatsopoulos, SM ’93, board chair of Levitronix Technologies
In what ways is your professional life as a woman in the workplace different from how you imagined it would be when you started your career?
I was raised with a strong sense that women are equal to men, so I figured I could do anything a man could do. What I didn’t appreciate until later, after I had four children, is the fundamental difference between men and women in raising a family. No matter how helpful and involved the father is, it’s the mother who carries the babies for nine months, often breastfeeds, and is usually the primary caretaker — managing schedules, crises, activities, and social engagements. I felt constantly torn, trying to keep up both professionally and at home, with these opposing forces often making me feel like I wasn’t doing enough on either end.
Who was an ally or mentor for you as you’ve navigated your career? What made that person stand out, and how specifically did they help you get to the next level of your professional development?
One of my best mentors was Woodie Flowers, my thesis advisor at MIT. He pushed me, encouraged me, and opened my eyes to mechanical design. Later, after trying a few different paths to get the experience I needed to become a tech entrepreneur, I hit some roadblocks, and he led me to the MIT Technology Licensing Office, where I found the 3D printing technology that we ultimately commercialized when we co-founded Z Corporation (later sold to 3D Systems). After we sold Z Corp., I found myself again at a crossroads, and Woodie was great at helping me think creatively about how to move forward.
Can you give an example of a time you’ve experienced or witnessed gender bias? How did it affect you professionally? What impact did it have on your job?
On my first trip to Asia for a trade show, our distributors didn’t believe that a young woman could be CEO, and they laughed when we were introduced. I let it roll off me. I’ve always viewed that type of reaction as ignorance and an educational opportunity to demonstrate the strength and efficacy of a woman in a leadership role. It was simply something they weren’t accustomed to. I insisted they take me out for drinks after dinner as they would’ve done with a male CEO. Throughout the course of the evening they changed their demeanor so that we had a meaningful business exchange.
Certain industries are as male-dominated as ever. Where do you see progress in your own professional experience and how can we scale that throughout your industry?
Women are making huge strides in STEM majors at universities, which will ultimately lead to more women in senior positions in tech businesses. Of course, this takes time, but it starts with education, and I’m confident that will flow through the pipeline. I have seen recent progress in preparing senior female executives for board roles, and I think that is really important. I’ve been on tech boards that want more women and don’t know where to find them, so the connecting of opportunities to women is very valuable.
What is the most difficult lesson you’ve learned in your professional life? In what unexpected ways did you grow from it?
I have always been driven toward end goals: where are we heading and how are we going to get there. I’m also impatient, so this led me to neglect some of the interpersonal issues which are so important. At Z Corp., it took me a long time to recognize the importance of communication, nurturing, and mentoring — helping people grow by delegating. I have come to value my professional interpersonal relationships as more important than any specific business decision or objective.