I read somewhere that only 19.3% of women who enter an engineering program in college actually go on to get their engineering degree. Most women (and men) working in the field will agree that it can feel like a bit of a boy’s club at times. During SolidWorks World 2014, I was able to meet with six women in the industry and pick their brains. The ladies I talked to run the gamut when it comes to experience, from just starting out to having 20+ years of industry expertise. Take a minute to get to know these outstanding women and how they view the industry.
Hawk Ridge Systems
How long have you been an engineer? Seven Months
What made you choose to be an engineer? When I first started college I was an Elementary Education major, which is when I had the opportunity to meet Sheryl Bihler. Sheryl is an electrical engineer who taught math in the evenings. She introduced me to engineering, and helped me to get in contact with people in the different fields. After speaking with them I realized Mechanical Engineering was what I wanted to do based on the fact that I enjoyed math, and another hobby of mine was working on my car with my father.
What has made you successful? I had the wonderful privilege in college of having a very supportive professor, Candice Bauer at the University of Nevada, Reno, who provided tremendous encouragement and guidance for this particular field.
How do you like working in a predominately male industry and how has it helped or hindered your career/day-to-day work? I enjoy working in the male industry, but I will say my conversations tend to be more along the engineering field as compared to those I have with my female friends. In the short time I have been in the engineering work force, my exposure has been predominately promoting and training clients in the use of SolidWorks. I have found everyone to be receptive to my assistance, and in addition to that, my company has challenged me and provided me valuable feedback in my development.
Any tips for women starting down this path? I believe this is an excellent career path; women are starting to move more into the engineering careers and their value and contribution is being recognized more frequently. My number one tip for going into this field is having a great study group in college, and sharing mutual support from other females in the engineering field. You will need them to laugh at some of the silly things those engineering men do. Don’t ever give up!
How long have you been an engineer? 24 years; I started doing design work when I was 19.
What made you choose engineering? There are lots of engineers in my family. There are four female engineers in my family: three mechanical and one chemical. My older sister (who was already an engineer) pointed me to it because I like drawing. I tried it and I liked it. It was more creative than I thought it would be. It is also very fun and engaging.
What made you successful? I really enjoy my job.
How do you like working in a predominately male industry and how has it helped or hindered your career/day-to-day work? I’ve had a 100% positive experience as an engineer. No patronizing. People find out right away if you know what you’re talking about. It used to just be me and six other men in my department, and now it’s just one other man and myself.
What are some tips for women in engineering starting out? Don’t feel you are a failure if you do not pursue your bachelor’s degree. I have been this successful with my two year degree in engineering.
Senior Customer Support Engineer
How long have you been an engineer? Six years
What made you choose engineering? My dad and brother are both engineers. I originally was interested in the medical field to help doctors design the tools needed to help people. I ended up working in the gas turbine industry. I like what I do–it’s fun!
What made you successful? Having a strong personality. In this industry you have to be very outspoken and strive to learn new things and adapt to new technology.
How do you like working in a predominately male industry and how has it helped or hindered your career/day-to-day work? I have always spoken up for myself, and I noticed earlier on in my career that some men have preconceptions of women, especially a mother in this industry.
What are some tips for women in engineering starting out? Don’t get discouraged, and always find a way to enhance your strengths to stand out against the competition.
Senior Mechanical Engineer Professor, Adjunct.
How long have you been an engineer? I received my BSME in 2003 but I have been working in the field since 1998. I was earning my degree while working.
What made you choose engineering? Family business; my dad was a Metallurgical Engineer deciding the types of metals to use on spacecraft, and my grandpa was a Civil Engineer. He designed the sewer and water systems for Chicago.
What made you successful? I am always learning, keeping my skills fresh. I am open to new ideas and to new technology.
How do you like working in a predominately male industry and how has it helped or hindered your career/day-to-day work? I don’t think about being the only women in the room. Early on in my career I was subjected to hazing (more like practical jokes). After the five year mark all of it stopped. They knew that I knew my stuff. It will only hinder you if you give up–just roll with it and stick it out.
What are some tips for women in engineering starting out? Don’t take yourself too seriously. You have to work hard to play hard.
How long have you been an engineer? Five years
What made you choose engineering? I always liked math and physics. I liked working with things that I could conceptualize and create in the physical form. Mechanical engineering lent itself to that.
What made you successful? Working with awesome people.
How do you like working in a predominately male industry and how has it helped or hindered your career/day-to-day work? I have great female mentors that are very encouraging. I don’t notice that is it predominately male since I have lots of female coworkers.
What are some tips for women in engineering starting out? More than anything, just do it. Don’t worry about it being predominately male. It is fun being unique in your field, and it can bring different viewpoints.
Technical Design Specialist
Babcock & Wilcox : mPower (SMR’s)
How long have you been an engineer or in the field? Since 1998, I have been working in the engineering field and I started with making blueprints.
What made you choose engineering? I fell into it. I worked for a temp agency, and they placed me at an engineering company. Since then I have never left the industry. There is more push for women to go into the sciences.
What made you successful? I enjoy the field, and I had great mentors. I would have never imagined going into this field but it found me and it’s exciting to me. I get to design, have conceptual ideas, and I get to see them come to full length. It is a lot of fun.
How do you like working in a predominately male industry and how has it helped or hindered your career/day-to-day work? I actually prefer it, and I currently get equal opportunity. Most people I’ve met do not have a problem with me being a female. It really depends on how old-school the person is, and whether they can accept women being engineers or not. I had one job where I hated it; I was miserable, but it all depends on where you work and who you work with. The new vs. the old generations.
What are some tips for women in engineering starting out? Have the willingness to learn from experienced engineers. People will offer to help you out. Also while in school, join robotics leagues, take advantage of higher level courses if they are offered to start down the path, and join a STEM program. I enrolled my children in the First Lego League (a robotics program for 9 to 16 year olds, which is designed to get children excited about science and technology) in order to educate them to STEM.