My engineering experience began as a college student working in a foundry in the 1970s. My summer project was an engineering modification on the factory floor. In that place, at that time, the factory workers didn’t like any engineer to be on the “floor,” let alone a twenty-something female. It was not a professionally kind environment, and it went as far as sabotage. Things happened—drawings disappeared and screws were removed overnight. I learned to establish recovery plans, and I successfully completed the project without drama. I learned not only how to anticipate issues, but to be determined without developing a negative attitude. There were at least as many supportive people as there were those determined to drive me out. I actually worked there a second summer.
The rest of my engineering career has been in a research and development environment, much different than the foundry. The obstacles have been more subtle, but altogether not too different. I became a leader by working with and through exceptional people. Anticipating issues, finding the positive in a situation, and being determined have served me well. Today, I manage an organization with over one thousand people as well as a complex business unit. I have added a few more coping skills, especially humor and authenticity. Humor is important for me. I live by the notion of taking my job seriously but not taking myself too seriously. Laughing with others is wonderful, and I try to bring my sense of humor to work with me every day. It is a natural way to stay positive even when the situation is difficult.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that people want to know their leaders. I spent most of my career staying private, even while interested in others. I willingly expressed my opinions, but not my feelings. My behavior was driven by being different, since I was usually the only woman in my work group at my level and did not want to accentuate the differences. I did laundry, cooked, worried about daycare, kids, and getting homework done—and I kept it to myself. Over time, I have become more comfortable sharing my life and feelings. It seems to help others understand they can be real people and be successful. What is most important to me now is to create a work environment where all women and men can bring themselves more fully to work everyday.