Women engineers bring creativity and innovation to the workplace
“We need talented, technical women to build a workforce that’s reflective of the marketplace.” – Andrea Lewis, BAE Systems
“Diversity in the workplace adds diverse thought and innovation.” – Cindy Bigner, Halliburton
By Angela M. Hutchinson
It makes good business sense for a company’s workforce to mirror its consumers. For many employers, like Kraft Foods Group, this trend has led to a demand for women engineers. “Research shows that women make or influence eighty-five percent of household purchase decisions,” says James E. Norman, VP of diversity and community involvement at Kraft. “We need the intellect and insight of women with technical expertise to help us create innovative products that make lives better for busy moms and demanding consumers.”
Andrea Lewis, PhD, chief diversity and inclusion officer at BAE Systems, Inc, agrees: “We need talented technical women to bring their unique perspectives, share their experiences, and help build a workforce that is reflective of the marketplace we serve. Diversity has a demonstrable impact on an organization’s ability to be innovative, to engage its employees and to compete in the marketplace.”
Innovation is the key to success in any business, says Cindy Bigner, senior director of global diversity and inclusion at Halliburton. “Having women and diversity in the workplace adds a component of diverse thought and innovation that drives that competitive advantage.”
Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) believes that every employee brings a wealth of knowledge, passion and innovation to the workplace, says Gary Gioioso, director of organizational development. “Those contributions allow PGW to remain a vibrant, innovative and customer-focused organization,” he explains. “These qualities help us continue to provide safe, reliable natural gas service to our customers and value to our stakeholders.”
“Our female talent is an integral part in helping us increase innovation,” says Marc Siry, SVP of media products and advanced technology for operations technical services at NBC-Universal. “As technology becomes increasingly critical, we need a whole new level of creativity. Our vision is to create an environment with multiple points of view where all voices have representation, and a commitment to inclusion as well as diversity is vital to achieving that goal.”
An emphasis on recruiting women
A diverse workforce is essential to securing a place as a leader in industry, says Roy Schroer, VP of human resources at Union Pacific. Union Pacific demonstrates its commitment to diversity through community partnerships and a wide range of recruiting efforts. The company hosts diversity day trips for college students and reaches out to women with tech skills through organizations like the Society of Women Engineers.
Niche websites, networking and referrals have been effective recruiting tools for women at Alliant Energy, says Anne H. Carter, director of corporate diversity and inclusion. “We have an employee referral program where the referring employee receives a bonus if we hire the candidate.”
Whitney Westbrook, campus staffing manager of global technology and operations at Bank of America, notes that campus recruiting is a key source for bringing diverse talent, including women, to its global technology and operations organization.
“We provide opportunities for new employees to grow in their careers with us by assigning them to projects with direct business impact early in their careers,” she says.
“We want to be a company where everyone wants to work, a company that’s the best recruiter, trainer and developer of talent,” states James Norman of Kraft. Kraft uses a variety of methods to recruit technical women and other technical talent, including its corporate website, plus LinkedIn, on-campus recruiting and internship programs. “We also build strategic relationships with professional organizations and retain search firms to identify talent.”
Jaime Ho works in R&D at Kraft
Jaime Ho is an associate engineer II at Kraft Foods Group (Northfield, IL), a multinational food and beverage company. She works in R&D at Oscar Mayer (Madison, WI), a wholly owned subsidiary.
Ho’s job is to identify new processes and technology for current and new products. A typical day starts with a team meeting. She’ll move on to development in the lab or pilot plant, or travel to plants or vendors to test equipment and variables to produce the desired product.
Ho was born in Hong Kong and moved to the U.S. with her family when she was a baby. Her Chinese origins, she says, helped prepare her for the business world. “Differences exist in all forms: outward appearances, likes and dislikes, goals and upbringing,” she explains. “I understand that in order for a team to succeed, we must accept different opinions and viewpoints of all functions.”
Ho started at Kraft in 2011 after graduating from Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) with a BS in biological and food process engineering. “The culture here is very flexible toward women who are balancing a career and family, so I know when that time comes for me, I will be able to do the same,” she says appreciatively.
The Asian-American Employee Council gives Ho the opportunity to interact with people from different functions within Kraft, celebrate Asian cultures and develop professionally. “All councils at Kraft are open and inclusive, so not only am I socializing with people from an Asian heritage, but I am also socializing with people who enjoy the Asian cultures,” she notes.
“Diversity in any industry can help inspire innovative solutions,” says Ho. “Kraft has employees from different backgrounds, whether it be ethnic, academic or social, and we can all work together to find the best solution.”
Tiffany Williams oversees locomotive repairs at Union Pacific
Tiffany Williams is manager of locomotive maintenance at Union Pacific (UP, Omaha, NE), a transportation company that covers twenty-three states across the western two-thirds of the United States.
Williams is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the locomotive shop. She oversees the repair and maintenance work on diesel locomotives that come into the shop. “As a manager, I am responsible for safety and quality assurance,” she says. “I implement projects and initiatives that deal with lean manufacturing to ensure effective processes and make sure our workers have everything they need to get their jobs done.”
Williams started in UP’s operations management training program after earning her 2011 BSEE at the University of Texas-San Antonio. Her technical background helped her grasp the complex operations of a locomotive, but it was the training program that helped expand her leadership skills and knowledge about railroad operations and locomotive maintenance.
“The railroad workforce has been dominated by men, many of whom have been in the industry for decades,” notes Williams. “Working with a young African American woman is a new experience for some. At times my knowledge is challenged because of my limited work experience.” She tends to use these situations to her advantage, though, encouraging experienced employees to teach her what they know.
UP actively promotes workforce diversity, which “fosters different opinions and ways of thinking,” says Williams. “If everyone thought the same, things would be pretty boring and good ideas could be missed.”
Suzanne Najem works in transmission project engineering at National Grid
Suzanne Najem is an associate engineer in transmission project engineering at National Grid, an international electricity and gas company. The company delivers electricity and natural gas to customers in New England and New York.
Najem works at U.S. headquarters in Waltham, MA. Her department is responsible for analyzing and designing high-voltage electric transmission lines in PLS-CADD, computer software that utilities use to do design work. The rest of the time she’s writing reports, scheduling, estimating, conducting field inspections and monitoring construction projects.
Najem’s dad is Lebanese and Syrian and her mom is French Canadian. She grew up heavily entrenched in both cultures. “I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my parents for allowing me to follow my dreams and supporting me every step of the way,” she says.
She earned her BSCE at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Worcester, MA) in 2012 and is excited to be working at National Grid. “I have met such a diverse group of people, and I’ve learned so much from them already,” she says.
A predominately male workplace might be intimidating for some women, but not for Najem. She learned early on that having confidence in herself and her ideas, but still showing respect toward others, helps break down gender barriers. “Being part of an underrepresented group in my profession, I have felt compelled to exceed the standard expectations to help promote a positive image of women in engineering and technical fields,” she adds.
A diverse workplace leads to more creativity, says Najem. “A diverse group of people could all look at the same problem, but each would interpret it differently based on their backgrounds,” she explains. “The result is likely to be an innovative solution.”
Jamila Evilsizor: senior systems developer at BNSF
Jamila Evilsizor interned at BNSF (Fort Worth, TX) before joining the company full time in 2009. BNSF is a railway that operates more than 1,000 trains a day on one of the largest freight rail transportation networks in North America.
Today, as a senior systems developer, Evilsizor is the project lead for software application development. She gathers requirements, develops software designs, tests software solutions, implements the solutions, provides user training and troubleshoots issues. She must understand the problems of her internal customers in the engineering department and find software solutions that let them perform their jobs more efficiently.
She’s currently designing a software system that BNSF engineering inspectors will use during equipment inspections. Part of the project is to design a user interface for the new system. The final product is months away from being completed, she explains. Even so, “The opportunity to provide my customer with a concrete visualization of the functionality they have requested is energizing.”
Evilsizor’s father was the first in his family to graduate from college and he gave his daughter a strong work ethic early on. “Starting in kindergarten, he would wake me up at 5 AM every morning so I could practice my reading, writing and mathematics,” she says.
That hard work paid off when Evilsizor graduated in 2009 from the University of Texas-Arlington with a BSCS.
When she started at BNSF, Evilsizor found that she wasn’t as effective as she wanted to be when pitching her ideas to co-workers. She soon realized that she needed more confidence. She worked on a deeper understanding of the subject matter before offering opinions and recommendations. She also drew on her Toastmaster’s training to improve her communication style. One step was to change the tone, volume and the pitch of her voice. “I noticed I was ending my sentences with raised inflection or I was trailing off,” she says. “I was undercutting my own statements, making it sound as if I were unsure. By lowering my pitch and speaking clearly and concisely, I was able to sound more assertive, and I became much more comfortable sharing my opinions.”
Railroad companies have historically been male-dominated, she notes. “As a corporate female, I find that some men from the field are a bit hesitant at first. They take a few minutes to assess whether I’m up to the task. But my curiosity and interest in understanding their day-to-day troubles can clear up any initial doubts.”
BNSF offers numerous affinity groups, including the Council of Native Americans, the Women’s Network and the African American Networking Group. “All employees have access to regular networking opportunities, lectures and festivals rooted in celebrating our diversity and learning from one another,” says Evilsizor.
Although it is sometimes easier to continue performing tasks the same way, “Moore’s Law and social changes are forcing companies to think differently if they are to keep up and stay relevant,” suggests Evilsizor. “The easiest way to change what you’ve always done is to accept fresh ideas from people of differing backgrounds and perspectives but with the same unifying goal.”
Lauren Salvani is a service development engineer at Cummins
Lauren Salvani is a service development engineer for high-horsepower engines at Cummins (Columbus, IN), a designer and manufacturer of engines and related technologies.
Her job is to secure, run and monitor field tests for Cummins engines while acting as liaison between design engineers and technicians. “Service engineers must keep in mind the safety of technicians and the processes used to maintain engines, and keep the overall cost to the customer to a minimum without compromising on design and safety,” she explains.
In the early stages of a program, Salvani is responsible for working with design engineers in order to promote safety and ease of maintenance into a design. “I have to interact with many different disciplines within the company, so strong communication skills are a must,” she notes.
As her programs progress, she must find real-world sites to test Cummins’ engines. She takes charge of the field test operation and must respond appropriately to any failures during the test.
Salvani joined Cummins shortly after earning her BSME at Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL) in 2010. Working with engineers in other disciplines has helped her understand that “people from dissimilar backgrounds have different perspectives and can offer a unique solution that a non-diverse group may not have. Diversity is especially important in a field that is on the cutting edge of research and development, where obstacles need to be quickly diagnosed and overcome,” she adds.
At Cummins, affinity groups like the women’s affinity group, Asian affinity group and the multiethnic affinity group are employee-led. “These groups allow you to connect with others in a similar position as you, and they act as an open forum for advice,” she says.
Salvani often forgets how rare it is to be a female in her position. “Most of the time I do not realize I am the only woman in a room,” she notes. “When I do take a step back and realize this is not a normal career path for most women, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Doing something that no one expects of you is a big part of my motivation.”
Jennifer Leung manages digital media platforms at NBC
Jennifer Leung works in the Stamford, CT location of NBC Sports Group, the sports division of NBCUniversal (New York, NY). NBCUniversal is a media and entertainment company that develops, produces and markets entertainment, news and information to a global audience.
As manager of digital media platforms, she leads product definition and technology development efforts, develops and streamlines digital video production and distribution workflows, and collaborates with technology industry leaders on the video technology behind NBC Sports. “Ultimately, my daily responsibility is to make sure our team is on track to deliver our new platforms according to our business roadmap,” says Leung.
She started with NBCUniversal in 2008 as an intern and accepted a fulltime role in the operations and technology leadership program after earning her 2009 BSEE at the University of Maryland-College Park.
Leung is a first-generation Chinese-Colombian American. Her father is Chinese, and came to the U.S. from Hong Kong as a refugee in the 70s. Her mother emigrated from Colombia in the early 80s. “Growing up in a multi-cultural, multi-language home and in a very diverse community, I learned how to communicate across language barriers, and I appreciate many different cultural backgrounds,” she says.
This has helped Leung build relationships and relate to coworkers of all backgrounds. “Communication and engagement are a key part of my job, as the success of our products depends on the teamwork and collaboration of many different teams of people,” she says. “Diversity of thought, perspective and backgrounds leads to creative problem solving and more comprehensive, globally relevant solutions.”
As a young management professional, she frequently encounters situations that are tough to handle: a disgruntled employee or co-worker, a seemingly impossible deadline, or challenges to work-life balance. She’s made it a point to seek out diverse women mentors and leaders to confide in and learn from. “I nurture those relationships,” she says. “I have also learned to build a network of many different mentors, not just women or those who share backgrounds similar to mine.”
NBCUniversal’s technology defines how it delivers content to its audiences, notes Leung. “I love that I work for a company that is spearheading innovation and is committed to valuing diversity: in our programming and in our technology. As a major media entertainment company, we help shape, influence and reflect the world we live in, and I am proud to work for a company that owns up to that privilege and responsibility.”
Jennifer Bullock is in a rotation program at PGW
Jennifer Bullock is an engineer 2 at Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW, Philadelphia, PA), the nation’s largest municipally owned natural gas utility. It serves 500,000 customers.
She’s in an engineer retention program that rotates engineers throughout different specialty areas of field operations. She started in natural gas distribution, where she designed and developed procedures for pressure testing on 150 pounds per square inch gauge line. She also created a reference book for the department’s specialty tools, developed procedures for the emergency shutdown of the company’s gate stations and experimented with magnetic interference of electronic remote transmitter models.
Bullock is an African American who grew up in Philadelphia. Her stepfather was an engineer and influential in her pursuit of the STEM fields. “Other little girls got dolls, but my stepfather bought me science kits,” she says with a smile. She earned her BSME at Temple University in 2011.
“One of the difficulties I’ve faced being a woman in a predominantly male field is finding people with similar interests in a social work setting,” says Bullock. She tackled the problem by joining the company’s Tech Association, which brings PGW techies together for community service projects and other activities. “I made an effort to expose myself to different experiences and learn about my peers and their interests.”
Amanda Acton manages construction projects at Alliant Energy
Amanda Acton has been with Alliant Energy (Madison, WI) for just under a year as an engineer III in the department of generation engineering. Alliant is an energy holding company that provides Midwest utility customers electric and natural gas services.
Acton’s focus is on construction projects at Alliant Energy hydroelectric and coal plants. She’s responsible for planning, budgeting, execution and cost management; she manages the contractors, handles engineering issues in the field, performs inspections and writes reports for governmental agencies.
Acton graduated from Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI) in 2003 with a BSCE. She worked as the project quality manager of a $560 million job at a large general contractor before joining Alliant.
When she started in construction, she was often one of the only women on a project. Earning the respect of the men she worked with was challenging. “It takes persistence and perseverance to go out every day and show that you can do the work,” she says. “I could have chosen a female-dominated career but I did not. I chose to be an engineer who has focused on construction. I love what I do and wouldn’t change it.”
Acton finds Alliant Energy a very diverse and progressive company. “The company backs up its policies for diversity with action, tracks how well its commitments are met and takes it very seriously,” she says.
Jenna Brose is a traffic engineer at AECOM
Jenna Brose interned at AECOM for three years before joining the company full time as a transportation engineer at the company’s Chicago, IL location. AECOM (Los Angeles, CA) is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including transportation, energy and water systems.
Brose comes from a family of engineers. “My grandfather started his own civil engineering firm. My father is a coastal engineer, my brother is a transportation engineer, and my sister is studying to be a civil engineer,” she says. “I grew up in a family that valued a strong education and hard work.” She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2011 with a BSCE and a certificate in business.
In her current position as traffic engineer, Brose works in traffic modeling, traffic signal design, operational analyses and safety studies. She enjoys knowing that when a project is completed, a roadway or transportation system is safer and more efficient. “That means fewer emissions as vehicles spend less time waiting in traffic, which is better for the environment and makes drivers’ days a lot happier,” she says.
“I am fortunate that my work environment is encouraging and supportive of female involvement in all aspects of the business,” she says. “In any technical industry, it is important to look at every problem from all angles. Bringing together people with different backgrounds will produce many different solutions and the problem will be analyzed more thoroughly.”
Brose hopes to be a role model for younger women pursuing a technical field, to show them that females can be successful. “Being part of an underrepresented group encourages me to be more outspoken and make my opinions heard,” she notes. “And being a female in engineering motivates me to aim for a leadership position in the future.”
GE Aviation’s Nan Jiang: EEDP rotation grad
Nan Jiang works at the Lynn, MA engineering division of GE Aviation (Cincinnati, OH). She’s a graduate of the Edison Engineering Development Program (EEDP), a leadership training program with rotational assignments.
GE Aviation is a business segment of GE (Fairfield, CT); it provides jet engines and services for commercial and military aircraft.
Jiang completed her three rotations in Lynn, MA. Today, she’s an applied statistics engineer. She uses statistical techniques to solve internal and external customer, engineering and business problems, and she provides statistical guidance on a wide range of data analysis efforts and initiatives.
“I support engineering field event investigations and risk analyses for J85, F414, TF34 engine lines,” she explains. “I also support supply chain efforts that ensure the quality of the products we deliver to our customers, and other business process improvement initiatives as well.”
Jiang was born in Nan Tong, a suburban city with roughly two million people in the Jiang Su province of China. When she was eleven her family moved to the island of Guam, where she lived until she went to college. She earned her BS in electrical and computer engineering at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) in 2009.
At GE Aviation, Jiang appreciates the strong sense of camaraderie and inclusiveness. “I have great technical mentors and they have always been extremely supportive,” she says. “It’s a great place for a young engineer like me to grow.” She’s now working on her masters in aeronautical and astronautical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA).
Jiang is affiliated with GE’s Women in Technology and Asian Pacific Americans Forum. “Both affinity groups are supportive and I feel confident that I can always reach out to them when I need guidance,” she says.
Shaneaka Robinson: ELDP at BAE Systems
Shaneaka Robinson has been in the Engineering Leadership Development Program (ELDP) at BAE Systems (Arlington, VA) since joining the company in 2008. As part of the ELDP, she’s rotated through positions in hardware engineering, systems engineering and reliability engineering.
BAE Systems is a global company engaged in the development, delivery and support of advanced defense, security and aerospace systems.
Robinson’s current rotation is in manufacturing, where she supports continuous improvement initiatives at the Austin, TX facility. She identifies areas in the factory where both production volume and efficiency could be increased. On a given day, she may be on the factory floor running an experiment to improve a cleaning process for a circuit card assembly, or creating a macro in Excel for defect analysis in the factory.
The most rewarding aspect of her program is learning about different areas of the business, she says.
“BAE Systems maintains an environment that makes it possible for everyone to feel valued and significant regardless of race, gender or religion. Although I am part of an underrepresented group, I never let it dictate what I can and cannot do to be successful.”
Robinson earned her BSEE at Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) in 2008. She completed her masters in computer engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, NJ) in 2012. She also obtained a certificate in project management from the University of Texas-Austin in 2012.
Melissa De Los Santos: software engineer at General Dynamics
Melissa De Los Santos is a software engineer II at General Dynamics C4 Systems (Scottsdale, AZ). The company provides ruggedized military and industrial computing products and services.
De Los Santos is on the software team for the company’s Coast Guard Rescue 21 program. She has a list of software fixes and enhancements that she works on daily. She’s also in charge of the regional configuration tool that is used to create and update software configuration files.
De Los Santos grew up in El Paso, TX and is half Mexican and half Dominican. She attended the University of Texas-El Paso and earned her 2009 BSEE with a concentration in computers. “I come from a very supportive and goal-oriented family that has always motivated me throughout my hardest moments,” she says.
Amber Kridner: field engineering at Halliburton
For more than two years, Amber Kridner has been a technical professional in the production enhancement business line at Halliburton (Houston, TX and Dubai, UAE), an oil services company with operations in more than eighty countries.
Kridner is a field engineer supporting stimulation jobs and serving as the technical expert on location. “I am the person who helps the customer solve problems, makes recommendations and ensures that Halliburton is meeting the client’s expectations,” she explains.
She’s a liaison between the servicing company and the lease operator, and is accountable for equipment and jobs worth up to millions of dollars. She’s in charge of quality assurance on location, where it’s her job to resolve any fluid issues. She also serves as a mentor and trains new employees in production enhancement.
Kridner comes from a blue-collar family with a strong work ethic, so she’s used to working hard. “This career requires a good work ethic and someone who doesn’t mind long work hours,” she says with a smile.
She graduated from Texas A&M University (College Station, TX) in 2009 with a bachelors in industrial distribution engineering technology. Being a woman in field work can have its occasional inconveniences, she notes. “For example, there are times when there are no Porta Pottys and no rest-rooms within a thirty-mile radius, but you make do. That said, I’m confident that my hard work out here will pay off and will open doors for me later.”
Kridner enjoys the family-like relationship she has with her crew. “The day I started, you could tell the field personnel didn’t know how to act around me, so they avoided me at first,” she says. “But slowly, as we interacted more and more, they got comfortable with me.”
Femina Fernandes: learning about power systems at NYPA
Femina Fernandes is an assistant transmission planning engineer at the New York Power Authority (NYPA, White Plains, NY). The NYPA sells electric power to government agencies, municipal electric systems and rural electric cooperatives, job-creating companies and private upstate utilities for resale to their customers and to neighboring states.
Since joining NYPA in January 2012, Fernandes has been working with transmission planning senior staff to learn the operational characteristics of the New York Independent System Operator bulk power electric system. She works with senior staff members to determine the need for and benefits derived from system transmission reinforcements, transactions and load management.
She helps the senior staffers compile reports and conduct studies that usually include changes in the transmission system. “My work deals with a lot of technical data and analysis,” she explains. “It involves calculations and studies for the whole of New York State.”
Fernandes is Indian with some Portuguese ancestry. She was born and raised in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and earned her BSEE in 2009 at St. Joseph Engineering College (Mangalore, India). She came to the U.S. in 2010 to study and got her MSEE from Manhattan College (Riverdale, NY) in 2011.
Fernandes worked briefly as an assistant EE in Dubai before moving on to software engineering. “Software offers a lot more women-oriented benefits,” she says.
In Dubai, Fernandes was the only female in her group. She’s found the environment at NYPA more promising. “The number of women is equal to the number of men in my group so I have had no problem fitting in,” she says. “There are definitely more women joining this field. It’s very encouraging to see in an industry that’s historically male-dominated.”
Fernandes likes to keep her mind open when working with a diverse team. “If you can work well with different kinds of people, you will gain a lot more information.”
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