Women of color in engineering lead the way for others
“The future for women of color in engineering is evolving. We must enlist everyone to promote STEM to underrepresented groups.” – Pamela Jones, IEEE
“My dad told me, ‘Never let being an African American female become your crutch. Be a solution seeker and execute.’” – Debra Shankle, Coca-Cola
By Arthur Schurr
'The science and engineering workforce is largely white and male. Minority women comprise about one in ten employed scientists and engineers,” according to the National Science Foundation report Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering-2013. The report shows that of this 10 percent, 5 percent are Asian women, 2 percent black women, 2 percent Hispanic women, and 1 percent women who are American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
“The U.S. Census Bureau projects that underrepresented minorities will account for about forty-five percent of the U.S. population by the year 2050. Without a change in course, the current gap between underrepresented minorities and others in science and engineering will only increase at a time when we need that gap to close,” explains Northrop Grumman lead software development analyst Pamela Jones. Jones serves on the Education Activity Board of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and is also active with IEEE Women in Engineering.
“Many people have observed a problem with the proportionately low numbers of women in engineering. We see it and we talk about it in many collaborative venues. But it’s not enough to be an observer.”
How we can help
“Being actively involved in programs is one thing that can be done to rectify the problem. At IEEE, IEEE Women In Engineering (WIE) and IEEE-USA programs are fighting this good fight,” says Jones.
WIE, she reports, is involved in many activities that mentor young women in STEM fields and support women practitioners in the STEM disciplines. “Nita Patel, the WIE chair, is passionate about helping this underrepresented group discover STEM,” Jones says.
IEEE-USA sponsors programs such as Girl Day, held during DiscoverE week (formerly National Engineers’ Week) each February.
“And 2013 IEEE-USA president Marc Apter was particularly focused on engaging people in the technical disciplines,” Jones adds.
“These are the kinds of actions I find most exciting. The future for women of color in engineering and technical disciplines is evolving. To reverse the current situation, we must enlist every individual to become actively engaged in promoting STEM to underrepresented groups.”
Featured here are some of the women of color in engineering who are leading the way for others.
Debra Shankle helps quench the nation’s thirst for Coca-Cola
Debra Shankle is regional VP for the central region of the Coca-Cola Company (Atlanta, GA). She’s responsible for thirty-one Coca-Cola manufacturing operations in a region that produces more than 600 million cases of beverage products each year.
“My role includes safely converting materials to high-quality beverage products. Our manufacturing operations bring beverages to life,” she says.
Shankle earned her bachelors in engineering management from the University of Texas-Austin in 1983. But her family played an equally important role in shaping her career.
“My father told me, ‘Never let being an African American female become your crutch. You were born to be great. Do not get caught up in other people’s issues or quirks. Instead focus on the task at hand. Be a solution seeker and execute. The other issues will eventually subside.’”
Guided by great leaders
Shankle found her father’s advice valuable, and she augmented it with two lessons of her own. “I knew I had to develop strong relationships with people in leadership roles, roles I wanted to hold one day. I sought out leaders who had a vested interest in my development and success,” she says.
“Second, I developed my own form of mentoring by watching great leaders, particularly in meetings. I monitor how they interact and lead, evaluate their decision-making processes, and review their communication and presentation skills. These leaders were my mentors, whether they realized it or not.”
Shankle credits Coca-Cola for providing outstanding leadership role models as well as an environment of equality.
Diversity at the heart
Chief diversity officer Steve Bucherati adds, “Diversity is at the heart of everything we do each day. Our approach to diversity is ‘as inclusive as our brands,’ and we believe we must all work together to achieve true diversity. We see diversity as more than just policies and practices. It is an integral part of who we are. In fact, we embedded it in our 2020 Vision, our global business strategy, which calls for us to achieve true diversity.”
Juanita Bozelle’s diverse talents help CSX constantly improve
Industrial engineer Juanita Bozelle drives continuous improvement initiatives across CSX Corporation (Jacksonville, FL). These initiatives include process improvement, change management, and cutting-edge industrial engineering analytics. CSX is an international transportation company offering rail, intermodal and trucking services, plus container shipping and contract logistics services.
“I started my career at CSX as a management trainee and got placed as a trainmaster. As a trainmaster, I was responsible for train operations and the safe, efficient movement of trains within my assigned territory. A year later, an opportunity arose to work in the process excellence department, where I’ve been ever since.”
Bozelle earned a 2007 BS in industrial engineering from the University of Central Florida (UCF, Orlando). In 2011 she got an MS in industrial engineering from UCF. She has also earned numerous CSX training certifications.
Bozelle recognizes CSX for its equitable environment and cites her profession as one that provides unique opportunities and challenges. “I have encountered a few obstacles throughout my career, but none due to being a double minority. Engineering work can be very demanding and you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Work schedules will vary, some days will be long, and finding a work-life balance is not easy. It’s just the nature of the work,” she notes.
“But a career in engineering can lead to a very exciting, rewarding and fulfilling journey. And I think society has come a long way in accepting and supporting women who pursue engineering and technology careers.”
Leveraging the variety of experiences
CSX VP and human resources and diversity chief officer Diana Sorfleet believes that CSX reflects these societal changes. “Diversity is who we are. It includes our obvious characteristics like race, gender or age and some less obvious ones like personality, education, military status, life experiences, abilities, sexual orientation and identity, geographic origin and family situations,” she says.
“Diversity gives us the opportunity to leverage a variety of skill sets and experiences to create superior customer value and innovative solutions. At CSX we strive to create an environment of mutual respect, trust and high engagement by celebrating and leveraging the unique differences and similarities our employees bring.”
Flor Rivas helps define strategy for GE
From her office in Albany, NY, OEM solutions product manager Flor Rivas is developing control solutions for infrastructure OEMs. This is a relatively new role for her at global giant General Electric (GE, Fairfield, CT).
“I develop products that revolutionize the industry and deliver the promise of the ‘Industrial Internet’: high-performance automation for today’s connected world,” she says.
Rivas has been with GE since 2001. She built her expertise in the power generation industry as a product design engineer for turbine seals and other stationary components, and in thermodynamics and performance engineering. Prior to her current role she worked in product development for steam turbine engineering.
She graduated in 2001 with a BS in mechanical and electrical engineering from the Universidad Iberoamericana (Mexico City, Mexico). She earned her MS in mechanical engineering in 2007 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY). She has also completed numerous GE leadership training classes and was certified in 2013 as a trainer for GenderSpeak, a program that facilitates gender understanding and appreciation.
“Being a double minority has shaped my career and made me stronger and more resilient,” Rivas says. “The biggest obstacle in a technical field or any other field that’s white-male dominated is you have to prove to the world you’re as good as everybody else. This can only be done by delivering results. Once you’ve proven you can perform, you need to focus on developing your network of relationships with mentors and sponsors.”
GE: diversity is essential
GE manager of diversity and inclusiveness Nancy Dunn notes, “We believe diversity is essential to our innovation and success because it allows us to connect engineers, scientists, teachers, leaders and doers who have different experiences and talents to help GE make the world work better.”
L-3 and Crystal Woods help NASA study the stratosphere
At L-3 Communications (New York, NY), a creator of integrated space communication systems, Crystal Woods is the L-3 program engineer for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) program.
Woods is an electrical integration engineer, working on the power distribution and electrical load analysis systems for new equipment installed on SOFIA aircraft. Since 2004, she has also served as the dynamic object oriented requirements system (DOORS) database manager for the L-3 platform integration division.
Working from her office in Waco, TX, she started in that role teaching courses on the use of DOORS to other systems and test engineers. “I don’t conduct classes anymore, but I still support the Waco site engineers with managerial projects for the DOORS software tool. In May 2012, I took on my biggest challenge yet as the SOFIA program engineer. I serve as the focal point of responsibility and authority for all technical aspects of the program, overseeing the engineering functional task leaders and serving as the facilitator for communication with the VP of engineering and engineering functional managers.”
In 1997, Woods received her BS in engineering with an electrical emphasis from Baylor University (Waco). She followed that with a 2012 MS in systems engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, NJ).
Although Woods was accustomed to being the only African American student in her classes, things changed when she entered the workplace. “I learned very quickly, if I wanted the guys’ respect I had to demonstrate confidence in myself and open my mouth and talk, as opposed to being shy and afraid to speak. I also realized I needed to respect them. Everyone on the team needs to work together to accomplish goals,” she reflects.
“In the fifteen-plus years I’ve worked at L-3, I have taken advantage of career development opportunities, served in leadership capacities beyond my job description, and maintained a reputation for professionalism. I’ve demonstrated leadership and workmanship skills that helped me advance my career and landed me in the position where I am today.”
Engineering supervisor Shauntel Browder helps power PSEG
Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG, Newark, NJ) is a publicly traded diversified energy company. Engineering supervisor Shauntel L. Browder manages the geographic information systems/mapping group and serves as the project scheduler for underground and overhead construction work for one of PSEG’s electric delivery divisions. She also provides twenty-four-hour on-call engineering support during emergencies. She’s based in PSEG’s metropolitan division headquarters in Clifton, NJ.
“My uncle was a computer systems engineering manager for the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York City. I remember visiting him in his office and being in awe of the work he was doing. I realized I wanted to work in a similar environment, but I did not want to be totally confined to a computer and desk.”
Browder graduated from the City College of New York (New York, NY) in 2008 with a BS in mechanical engineering. In 2018, she will participate in the four-week PSEG Supervisory Academy, which gives first-time managers skills to lead their teams.
Browder praises PSEG for its work environment and its commitment to diversity. “Being a woman of color in the engineering field is actually very comfortable for me, especially working for a company like PSEG. To succeed in any environment requires hard work, diligence, and a strong ability to communicate and interact with individuals at various organizational levels and diverse backgrounds,” notes Browder.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with intelligent people who challenged me and encouraged me to do my best work. They made me feel like a contributing member of the team regardless of my cultural background. That is the career I imagined I would have even as a double minority and I plan on continuing in that trajectory.”
Seeking the best and brightest in every demographic
Talent acquisition and diversity outreach director Scott Trapp says, “PSEG views diversity and inclusion as core business imperatives. They are embedded in everything that we do. Women and women of color are key in technical roles at PSEG.
“As a utility and power generation company, PSEG is founded and run on technical capability, whether it’s engineering, information technology, or technical field positions. These are well-paying, stable jobs that enable us to provide safe, reliable, economic and greener energy. It’s critical that we tap every segment and demographic of the talent pool to attract the best and the brightest for our workforce.”
SAS’s Annette Booker supports a technical bridge between South Korea and Texas
From her office in Austin, TX, process integration engineer Annette Booker is currently working on the development and mass production of the newest device node for Samsung Austin Semiconductor (SAS). SAS is a U.S.-based semiconductor manufacturing facility owned by Samsung Electronics (Seoul, South Korea).
“It is my job to transfer the technology from our mother site in South Korea to the Austin location. I develop new experiments to improve device performance and yield, coordinate multi-departmental team communications and experiments, and facilitate project progress with my South Korean counterparts.”
Booker graduated from Norfolk State University (VA) in 2003 with a BS in computer science. As an undergraduate, she was awarded a full scholarship as part of the Dozoretz National Institute for Minorities in Applied Sciences program and was named a Gates Millennium Scholar by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2006 she received an MS in electrical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech, Blacksburg). This degree was financed by a Bradley graduate fellowship, a Virginia Tech departmental award, and a President’s fellowship at Virginia Tech.
Booker believes being a double minority can be challenging. She cautions that issues remain even for women at her level.
“I believe that as women, we must realize the importance of asking for what we want. I don’t find that women ask for promotions, raises, recognition or positions as often as our male counterparts. We tend to believe that hard work will gain us that recognition, but I now realize being proactive in this area is also beneficial. With the guidance of my professional mentors, I am overcoming this obstacle in my career.”
Tracy Tate designs high-voltage transmission lines for Southern California Edison
Southern California Edison (SCE, Rosemead, CA) is the primary electricity supply company for much of Southern California. SCE transmission group/new projects engineer Tracy Tate is the lead transmission engineer for SCE’s San Joaquin Cross Valley 220kV transmission line project, which is increasing power capacity for Tulare County in the San Joaquin Valley.
“I design high-voltage transmission lines for renewable and clean energy projects in the SCE territory. I design structures, foundations and conductors,” she says.
An eleven-year SCE veteran, Tate began her career working for public and private engineering firms on large public works projects. Before that, she earned a bachelors in science from the University of Nevada-Reno in 1994.
Tate is equal parts philosophical and practical about being a woman of color in a traditionally white-male profession. “I don’t focus on feeling out of place, and I think that has helped me stay in this profession so long. I enjoy working on a variety of engineering projects and I have built a reputation for doing good work,” she says.
“I will admit there are many challenges to working in this field. But what may seem like disadvantages are actually advantages, because they prepare you to deal with situations and uncertainties that come up when designing and building complex projects. I think I’m actually a better engineer and person due to the adversity I faced.”
SCE wants to empower people
Ted Craver, chairman, president and CEO of SCE parent Edison International, says, “Diversity is an integral part of our identity as a company. It’s about empowering people and promoting the human spirit. It’s about capitalizing on the strengths of everyone around you.”
Janette Hostettler helps keep Toyota manufacturing in Indiana
Janette Hostettler recently took the reins as general manager for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana (Princeton, IN) for paint, plastics and plant engineering.
Global automaker Toyota is head quartered in Japan; its North American headquarters are in Erlanger, KY. Hostettler works in Evansville, IN.
“I will oversee the vehicle and plant operations as it relates to body paint, plastics injection molding of bumpers, instrument panels and quarter panels for the Sienna, Sequoia, and Highlander. I’m also responsible for overseeing the plant facilities under plant engineering.”
Previously, she served as the assistant general manager for quality control engineering, where she oversaw sixty-five specialists, four managers and eleven assistant managers.
She graduated in 1992 from Purdue University with a BS in chemistry. She has attended several leadership training seminars including SOAR, a professional development program for women, the Center for Creative Leadership women’s leadership program, and Toyota’s leadership development program. Hostettler commends Toyota for fostering a diverse culture where all people feel included.
“Being a double minority has not affected my career at all. However, being a mother and a working woman has affected my career – in a good way. I feel Toyota has supported me throughout my career and helped me make the right choices at the times in my career when balancing home and family could have been a struggle.”
The importance of speaking up
“I think the biggest obstacle I face is myself,” she admits. “There were many times where I felt inferior and lost opportunities to express my opinion at the most opportune time, when I was the only female in a room full of gentlemen in a heated conversation. I kept quiet and ultimately lost that moment to say what should have been said, only later to find someone else took that opportunity,” she says.
“I had a conversation with another female executive who faced a similar issue. In the end, I said to her, ‘If not you, then who?’ That stuck with both of us. Today, she is the first female Toyota executive to move to Japan to train with the highest-level managing officers. And she’s a great mother, too!”
LaKeshia Mickens helps keep the power flowing for Southern Company
LaKeshia R. Mickens is an engineering supervisor for Southern Company (Atlanta, GA), an electric utility holding company. She leads a group of twenty-five mechanical engineers and piping designers who provide in-house design, engineering and project support to Southern Company’s fleet of power generation plants and facilities.
Mickens graduated from the University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa) in 1997 with her BS in mechanical engineering. She credits an Inroads internship with giving her a good start in her professional career. Inroads places minority youth in internship programs, including many at tech-focused companies.
But she also believes that “you create your own destiny. While I am always aware of my status as a woman of color, I don’t view it as a badge. I bring my talent, background, experience, training and a host of other characteristics to the workplace every day. These qualities all mesh together to define and shape me as a professional engineer, not just my gender and race. I don’t see that being a double minority has had any effect at all.”
Excellence through inclusion
“Southern Company understands the value of a diverse and inclusive workplace,” notes vice president of human resources Stacy Kilcoyne. “It is not just a corporate performance goal. It’s a business imperative to sustain a culture of excellence through inclusion.”
Marshell Hill supports Bank of America’s risk framework
Based in Dallas, TX, senior VP Marshell Hill is a technology business control monitoring and readiness business executive for Bank of America (Charlotte, NC). Her specialty is IT and her responsibilities include analysis and management of regulatory and audit issues; self-inspection programs; standards, policy and rule governance; and program execution in support of Bank of America’s risk framework.
“In my career, I’ve made a strong commitment to customer focus and diversity that thrives in a dynamic, challenging, fast-paced work environment. This is why Bank of America has been the perfect fit for me for the last ten years,” she declares.
Hill graduated from the American Commercial College (Shreveport, LA) in 1980 with a BS in computer science. She also holds several training and technical certifications and three patents. Hill believes that her status as a double minority has had a positive effect on her career.
“It gave me an edge, and made me want to be the best, to strive for greatness, patience and endurance, and to continue to learn and gain as much knowledge as possible. I’ve had the good fortune of having wonderful mentors. Two of my best mentors were male: my dad and a former manager.
“My dad influenced me in so many ways. He told me early, ‘Be the best and your best will speak for you.’ It was neither about color nor gender. It was about being human. So my advice to women of color starting out in the field now would be to follow your passion, gain mentors in the field, and be the best, and your best will speak for you.”
More outside-the-box thinking
Bank of America’s New York-based enterprise services chief technology officer Alla Whitston adds, “Diverse and inclusive organizations have more creative and innovative approaches. There is more outside-the-box thinking when we realize that ‘the box’ is different for each of us. We are limited only by our own imaginations, which are broadened by our life’s experiences. Bank of America’s focus on delivering value to diverse clients and communities around the world is achieved by our diverse workforce.”
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