Progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum, though. Progress takes effort, courage and collaboration. It takes defiance and guts. It takes leadership, sometimes even defiance. And when someone says “You? I don’t think you can”, it takes one brave person standing up and saying “Watch me.”
These people—the trailblazers, the problem-solvers, the collaborators—make up AVEVA’s teams. They lead by example, and and strive to help those who follow. People like Penny Gunterman, VP of Operations Portfolio Marketing at AVEVA, who, despite a leukemia diagnosis, not only got a promotion while she was on maternity leave with her “miracle baby,” but strives to give other women in STEM fields a leg up. (For Penny’s story, click here.)
I recently sat down with a few of the other women at AVEVA to talk about how organizations can empower women in STEM.
By the time they reach AVEVA, our engineers are extremely accomplished. But their career paths haven’t been without obstacles. I asked several of them about their experiences as women in STEM fields, and what sort of roadblocks they encountered along the way. One common theme was that a lack of gender diversity within their past teams hurt everyone in the long run.
Too often, these engineers found themselves as the lone woman in a room full of men. Many said it was difficult to build strong relationships with colleagues and mentors because that lack of diversity made shared experiences scarce. Others worried about how maternity leave or childcare might hurt their job security. Others still told stories that saw their previous companies lose out on significant amounts of money, all because those companies only listened to good ideas when they came from men.
One of our engineers, Marina Velazquez, who works on the quality assurance team, said a manager at one of her previous companies asked her to do something that would cost about $350K, but would only save the company around $250K.
“As I investigated the problem, I warned them that what I was asked to do was not an efficient solution,” Marina said. “I offered a solution that would cost under $10K and save the company $500K a year. No one wanted to believe me. I got no support. Someone told me, ‘if this was so easy a man would have found it a long time ago.’
“Finally one manager in the plant decided to give me a chance. There was a planned plant shutdown, and he agreed to test my method. In just a week of production, we made small changes that cost almost nothing. My manager came to me and said, ‘if this fails you are fired.’ In one week, we saved $20K, and over $50K just in the first month.
“At the end of the year on my performance appraisal, my boss wrote, ‘needs to improve: Marina needs to do what other engineers tell her to do; women should not think for themselves.’ What did I do? I went out with my friends to celebrate my good performance. My self-esteem was not going to be hurt by this jerk. He was forced into retirement, and I was able to transfer to a new location as one of the most productive engineers in the company.”
The engineers I interviewed said they’d always loved math and science. They enjoy puzzles and solving difficult problems (no surprise there), and working in STEM gives them opportunities to keep exploring big ideas to satisfy their intellectual curiosity.
“I was surrounded by math and physics books growing up. My father was a math teacher. I’ve always loved math, and I like creating and producing things, so engineering was the perfect match for both.” -Mariela Zambrano, R&D director
“My favorite subjects in school were always math and sciences. I was interested in engineering, since it combines the subjects I enjoy most. Engineering gives me a wide range of possibilities for study and work.” – Fernanda Martins, industry marketing manager
What makes an engineer tick?
Here are some of the highlights of what motivates and inspires the women of AVEVA.
“I appreciate data-driven decision-making. Data is complex, overlaid with ethics, compassion, budget and resource constraints, regulations, and a plethora of other layers. But at its core, engineering teaches us an orderly approach to problem-solving.” —Jenny Danielsen, customer success manager
“I love challenging myself, evolving, and constantly exposing myself to new ideas. Engineering involves so many disciplines and industries; one door always leads to another. I’ve moved from mechanical engineering to cloud development, and each role gives me a new mindset and new skills.” —Tania Mahmood, junior cloud DevOps engineer
“Engineering can be boring if you are just executing someone else’s ideas. It can be very rewarding if you work on your own solutions and make them realities. In AVEVA, there’s plenty of room for innovation.” —Marina Velazquez, quality assurance
What advice would you give yourself at ten years old?
We asked each of our engineers to share some advice she’d give her ten-year-old self to prepare her for life as an engineer. The answers are enlightening for women of any age.
“Give yourself permission to succeed. If anyone says engineering is not for women, don’t listen; trust yourself.” —Marina Velazquez, quality assurance
“Be selective about whose voices and words you let live in your head. Make sure you study for understanding and not just the grade. Most of your career roles do not currently exist—get used to a fast pace of change. Remember it is good to stop and rest, but do not quit.” —Jenny Danielsen, customer success manager
“Keep the best parts of being a child—own your imagination and hold on to your fearlessness. They’ll serve you well. Don’t beat yourself up when things go wrong, just pick yourself up and try again.” —Tania Mahmood, junior cloud DevOps engineer
Advice: Engineer to engineer
I asked our interviewees if they’d share advice for other women considering STEM careers or currently working in the industry. Here’s what they had to offer:
“Engineering is a field where you can grow in multiple areas and directions. It provides a strong foundation to empower you to explore and decide where you best fit. Be open and get the most out of all these opportunities and just go for it!” —Mariela Zambrano, R&D director
“Pursue challenging courses and experiences that push you out of your comfort zone. Learn to brush off failure and try again. Don’t be shy about asking questions or getting extra support—good counsel is invaluable.” —Jenny Danielsen, customer success manager
“I’m often told, ‘I wish I’d gone into engineering.’ It’s never too late! More diversity of knowledge and lived experience will make your company and industry better. Don’t be afraid to build your skills, even if you think it’s not ‘for’ you.” —Tania Mahmood, junior cloud DevOps engineer
Hopes for the future of STEM careers for women
Our engineers offered these insights into how businesses can better train, work with, and retain women in engineering roles. Many mentioned the need for diversity—not only in terms of gender, but ethnicity, social background, age, and ability.
Another common theme was the struggle to retain women in STEM disciplines. Many of our engineers agreed that organizations create spaces that foster community, support, and mentorship, like the Women@AVEVA global community, which provides networking and professional development opportunities.
“A variety of thoughts and ideas is imperative for finding the best solutions, and that requires people from all backgrounds, genders, beliefs, etc. My hope is that engineering fully takes advantage of a very diverse pool of individuals.” —Mariela Zambrano, R&D director
“I hope to see an equitable future where the word woman does not need to be attached to the word engineer, and we are all just engineers.” —Marina Velazquez, quality assurance
“I hope engineering departments continue to experiment with different teaching methods and class structures to increase attraction and retention of women and other underrepresented people in the field. I hope women in corporations and their own companies continue to grow in their visibility and impact, showcasing the unique qualities women bring to the table.” —Jenny Danielsen, customer success manager
Encouraging positive change
Finally, I asked about the day-to-day practices women in STEM fields can use to encourage positive change in their organizations. The common theme was this: Be the leader you wish you’d known when you were first starting your career. You can be that leader by:
- Collaborating with your colleagues.
- Fostering a workplace culture that prioritizes inclusion and networking between peers.
- Making yourself available and mentoring other women. When we’re beginning our careers, we all need successful role models.
- Prioritizing diversity in your teams to create stronger, more innovative, and more successful teams.
- Working directly with management to ensure that all genders can comfortably use parental leave and make travel choices that respect the responsibilities we have to our families. Parental leave shouldn’t be something only women care about or use.
- Engaging directly with new engineers to ensure that women are encouraged as they pursue their educations or as they transition to the workforce.
If you’re a woman starting out in a STEM field, we at AVEVA would like to say: You are in terrific company. This community will only continue to grow and achieve. We’re certain of it, because our engineers demonstrate it everday
We hope you’ll check out the career opportunities at AVEVA.com. The STEM world needs your voice.