Los Altos resident Helen Armer joined an exclusive group of women from major companies across Silicon Valley this year.
In March, the Applied Materials Inc. executive received the Tribute to Women award from the YWCA Silicon Valley. Last week she joined 31 other award winners for a dinner celebration in San Jose.
Since 1984, the YWCA has given the Tribute to Women award to executive women who have excelled in their fields, with the goal of promoting gender diversity at the top ranks of companies throughout Silicon Valley.
At Applied Materials, Armer directs the knowledge base the company uses to improve the semiconductor manufacturing equipment it sells worldwide.
Armer assumed the role in 2009, when Applied Materials began to explore the possibility of offering a consulting service to enhance the productivity of the machines it had already sold to clients. Clients typically use the machines for more than 30 years, according to Armer.
The Santa Clara-based Applied Materials, which employs more than 15,000 people in 17 countries, recruited Armer to join the 10-member group that would spearhead the consulting service. Armer, who earned a doctorate in chemical engineering from Tulane University, had spent the previous decade with Applied Materials as a product line manager.
After becoming knowledge base director, Armer led a team in developing the benchmarking system that has made Applied Materials an industry leader in equipment consulting services.
“We’ve become the go-to company for benchmarking from our customers,” she said.
Major semiconductor producers such as Micron Technology Inc., Texas Instruments Inc. and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. have used the service; this year Armer will manage 60 benchmarking projects.
Forty percent of Armer’s job involves travel to distant project sites, often in Asia. The more than 10-hour time difference between many of the sites and Silicon Valley also means Armer takes calls around the clock.
Armer first took on these demands after her four children, including triplets, had left for college.
“That was by choice so that I wouldn’t have to travel (while they were still home),” she said. “Of course, I did have nannies because I was working.”
With the Tribute to Women award, the YWCA hopes to encourage professional women who face similar obstacles to pursue executive-level positions like Armer’s.
“We still have a lot of work to do to increase women’s participation in Silicon Valley and tech, especially at the C-suite level with the most senior positions,” said Jaime Woods, the YWCA Silicon Valley’s associate director of philanthropy.
In recent years, tech companies such as Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. have released data revealing that women account for only approximately one-third of their workforce.
According to Woods, employers throughout Silicon Valley have committed to nominating at least one woman for the Tribute to Women award each year. Twenty-two companies participated this year.
The award, Woods noted, has fostered a supportive network among past and present winners.
Applied Materials’ 1985 winner, Liz Baird, traveled from Texas to accompany Armer to the awards celebration.
For more information, visit ywca-sv.org.