What were your motivations for entering the engineering field, one that is well known for being male dominated?
It really goes back to my interests when I was young. I always had a passion for outer space. When I was a kid I attended Space Camp – twice. I even won the Right Stuff camper award, and I loved everything about NASA’s history.
In high school, my physics teacher and my mom both encouraged me to pursue engineering. Honestly, I was very unsure about engineering when I applied to colleges. I wanted a backup plan in case I didn’t enjoy it, so I only considered schools that had both arts and sciences programs. But, when I finally applied for engineering programs, it was only for aerospace programs.
I went on to earn a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering, and today I lead a team that develops GPS technology solutions for the U.S. Space Force. Little did I know back then that in 2021 men would still outnumber women in science, technology, engineering and math fields at rates similar to when I was in college. According to the U.S Census Bureau, women account for a mere 27% of the STEM workforce.
As a leader in a historically male-dominated field, what have you seen as the biggest challenges for women?
One of the biggest challenges continues to be that you will, at times, be the only female in the room. At times that can be intimidating. You must be confident in what you have brought to the organization and what you will continue to bring.
This is essential for fighting those imposter syndrome doubts. In my view of the world, imposter syndrome is doubting your abilities and feeling like you’ll be found out as a fraud or that you’ve gotten to your position by luck, despite the evidence of your accomplishments and success. I think the best way to combat doubts is to be truly confident in what you know you bring to the organization. And when all else fails, do a quick superhero stance (hands on hips, head raised high) in your office before your next big meeting.
What have been your greatest rewards or lessons?
You can accomplish a lot through your performance but to really take your career further – it’s essential to develop relationships with colleagues across all levels of an organization and cultivate valuable coaches, mentors and advocates.
Advocacy is the ultimate form of mentorship. Those further in their careers can advocate for you, use their political capital within, and occasionally outside the organization, to help you advance your career. I am lucky to have had five outstanding advocates (including myself) already in my career.
One of the most rewarding experiences I have had was serving as a staff executive for a vice president within Raytheon Intelligence & Space. It truly was a position that took my visibility within the company to an exponential level while cultivating uncommon skills like upward influence that continues to help me stand out among my peers.
What do you consider to be the most important skills or assets for women in engineering?
Curiosity and a willingness to lead with influence. As an engineer curiosity is what keeps me learning day in and day out. We should all be curious. It makes us better and keeps us creative when trying to develop the next great innovative solution.
Leading with influence keeps you at the forefront when your organization is looking for someone to tackle a big challenge. Being able to positively influence your subordinates, peers and leaders allows you to stand out in a crowd. Success really comes when you stretch yourself into roles where you may not feel 100% ready for it.
Can you provide a few key tips for women entering a male-dominated field?
- Find a group of like-minded women at your company. Gaining knowledge from others who’ve been through similar experiences. Learning how they handled various situations is a large source of support. You should also share your knowledge with the junior people – giving them a safety net, something many women may not have.
- Be an advocate for yourself. I learned that maintaining an unshakable assurance in my decisions was vital for success.Do not wait for anybody else to figure out what you want to do. You need to be really vocal! Trust me, your male counterparts are being vocal about what next assignment they want, so you need to raise your voice and say ‘This is the assignment I want next.'”
- Do what you can to not doubt yourself and always be curious. We all deal with imposter syndrome – your male counterparts do as well – and it can stifle progress. We, as women, just need to ignore it more than we let it get to us.
- Lean into the discomfort and uncertainty. We tend to view uncomfortable situations at work as just that – uncomfortable, and we want to just get past them as quickly as possible. But I think that uncomfortable situations are opportunities for growth. You know just as much, if not more, than the folks in the room with you. And if you aren’t sure, ask. Be curious, always!