Diversity Helps Spur Materials Innovation for Merck’s Electronics Business
By Serena Brischetto, SEMI Europe
Women remain sorely underrepresented in the microelectronics industry worldwide and are a minority in the science, engineering, chemistry and physics fields overall even as companies struggle to fill open positions.
A SEMI blog earlier this year reported that, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), a non-profit that champions equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research, women drop out of engineering careers more steadily and quickly than men. Just 30% of women working in engineering are still in the field after 20 years compared to 35% of men. And by the time women have been in the field for 30 to 34 years, that number falls to 19% – while it increases to 39% of men among the same cohort, mirroring workforce trends in Europe.
To explore how companies across the microelectronics supply chain can cultivate work cultures that attract and retain women, SEMI spoke with Aurelie Ludemann, Head of Product Research Display Solutions for the Electronics Business of Merck, about the critical importance of women in the STEM workforce and the quest to ensure every employee can bring her or his whole personality to work as more companies launch diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives to expand their workforces.
SEMI: Please tell us about your role at Merck.
Ludemann: I currently lead research for the Display Unit in our Electronics Business, a team that’s developing the highly advanced materials and processes to enable our customers to design and manufacture state-of-the-art electronic devices. From large TVs to touch screens and free-form displays, we leverage our deep knowledge of science, technology, and engineering to develop new materials that will shape the next generation of devices.
I studied chemistry and started working on semiconductor polymers as a Ph.D. student. After joining Merck, I dedicated my research to OLED (organic light-emitting diodes) technology, which is also based on various semiconductor materials. In my current role, I work on a broad range of display materials – including Liquid Crystals, OLEDs, and Quantum Dots Pixel Color Converters (QDPCC) – that are vital to the development of multiple display applications.
SEMI: What scientific achievement are your particularly proud of?
Ludemann: I have worked on OLED technology for many years and developed, together with our team, various classes of materials for vapor and wet deposition for ink jet printing. Purification and ink formulation of soluble materials was indeed a big challenge. However, we were able to develop an effective ink set that made printed devices look incredibly good. There are still many challenges to scale this technology to mass production, but the very futuristic idea of print your device is something that gets me excited to come to the lab every day.
SEMI: Did you face any challenge during your studies? Were women well-represented in your universities?
Ludemann: Women students were well-represented at the university and also during my Ph.D. studies in France. However, the professors, Ph.D. supervisor and other university administrators were all male. Interestingly, in German you refer to a male Ph.D. as a Doktorvater (Ph.D. father), yet a Ph.D. mother doesn’t exist. Still, the gender parity gaps weren’t much of a challenge at university. My fellow female students and I were so used to it that we viewed the male-dominated culture as normal.
I found it more difficult later on in my professional life, where I felt I was missing female role models. There was always this question in the air: career or family? Without encouragement, it was easy to believe that you must make this choice and that both – a career and a family – are not compatible. The lack of role models discouraged some of my very talented female colleagues from pursuing a career in the STEM space.
As time has gone on, I’ve realized that when you’re supported by open-minded managers who provide work flexibility and lead from a place of trust, you can balance a fulfilling career with family life. Both are possible and this is good news for men and women!
SEMI: Why is diversity, and specifically the advancement of women, so important for the semiconductor industry?
Ludemann: At Merck we are curious minds dedicated to human progress. Curious minds include all types of people regardless of your gender, race, sexual orientation, or religion.
The semiconductor industry needs innovation to tackle the future challenges of a data-driven world in a sustainable way. And the industry needs diversity and inclusion to innovate and thrive. Diverse views, unconventional thinking, mixed expertise and deep knowledge are all fuel for innovation. We need talent with diverse backgrounds to work closely in a safe environment. I strongly believe this is the key to success and I witness it everyday (my leadership team is 50/50 genderwise)!
SEMI: What DE&I initiatives is your organization pursuing?
Ludemann: There are many DE&I initiatives at Merck and specifically in our Electronics Business since diversity has been an important focus at Merck for a number of years. We are seeing positive outcomes. An initiative that I personally found especially helpful is mentoring. Merck offers various mentoring programs – mentoring across the company and even with other companies, within our specific business, as well as formal and informal mentoring – that ensure we are sharing lessons, experiences and stories that elevate our collective expertise. I had two excellent mentors (a woman and a man) who both convinced me that I should not hesitate to take on more responsibility.
At Merck, we are also investing heavily in training our managers to be aware of their own biases. It’s important for our collective success that we each have a boss who motivates us and helps develop to our full potential, regardless of our gender. Leaders play a big role in DE&I. Their behavior is mirrored throughout the whole organization.
Within the Electronics Business of Merck, we have prioritized three DE&I focus areas based on our unique industry needs and dynamics: We strive for gender balance to leverage different workstyles and perspectives of women and men in the workplace. We strive for international diversity with a focus on Asia Pacific (APAC ) due to the large proportion of our customer relationships based in this region. And we are fostering and developing our early-in-career talent across all areas of the Electronics Business to ensure that our talent pipline is strong and competitive in our rapidly changing industry.
SEMI: What would you like the semiconductor and other industries to take away from your testimonial?
Ludemann: I encourage all companies to invest in strong leaders, strive for 50/50 gender representation in the workplace, and provide scheduling flexibility to employees.
SEMI: What are your expectations for the future of diversity, equity and inclusion?
Ludemann: I hope for a time when an article such as this one is not necessary anymore, and diversity, equity and inclusion will no longer be a topic of discussion. It will be the status quo. I hope the industry is ready to welcome more equity in the next generation since I have two scientist children – a girl and a boy!
Aurelie Ludemann, Head of Product Research Display Solutions for the Electronics Business of Merck, has been working on OLEDs (Organic Light-Emitting Diodes) since 2001. Originally from Le Mans in France, she studied chemistry at the universities of Le Mans, Nantes, and Tours (France). Ludemann began working at Merck in 2006.
The Electronics Business at Merck is a SEMI Europe and SEMI Americas DE&I sponsor this year.
Serena Brischetto is senior manager of marketing and digital engagement at SEMI Europe.