Women in engineering: getting ahead
In Part 1 of this article, we spoke to Julie Roberts, VP Engineering at Presidio about the difficulties women faced when embarking on a career in engineering. In Part 2, Julie shared some tips on how to conquer the sensation of imposter syndrome, whether it came from inside, or was pushed onto women by male colleagues, as well as how to build your own brand, so that people know not only who you are, but also what you do and what your accomplishments are.
While we had her in the chair, we asked Julie to tell us more about overcoming the learned reticence of women in a patriarchy, and putting herself out there to achieve the advancements that her skills had earned.
Not bragging, but advocating.
You’ve said it didn’t come naturally to you when you had to get your brand out there, because women in our society generally aren’t taught to celebrate their accomplishments, and are taught to fear being thought of as “bragging.” So how did you overcome that reticence?
As I said in Part 2, it’s extremely uncomfortable when you start, because of those factors – you don’t want to come across as being pushy or bragging. That’s why it’s extremely important you have the achievements to back up what you say.
But it’s equally important that you practice selling your brand, practice saying the words in a natural way, so you can get past the sensation that you’re talking about yourself “too much.”
Sounds like no fun at all.
The point is, if you don’t do it, if you don’t get over it and go for the opportunities you want, they will go by you. I have a case in point from personal experience.
There’s a program at Presidio called the Presidio Distinguished Professional program that started a few years back. And when I saw it, I was like, “That’s me. I know that’s me.
Do they think it’s me?”
That’ll be our old friend, imposter syndrome.
I went ahead and applied for that and when I applied for it, the first stage was an application review. Then you had to do a presentation about yourself and tell your brand to this group of executives.
There was the hardest presentation I’ve ever put together. To try to tell my story in a manner that I felt comfortable doing, to show all my accomplishments, but stay on the right side of that fine line of bragging. And it took me a long time. But once I did that for the first time, it began to get a little bit easier.
The more you do it, the more you take that discomfort and turn it into something positive. Even though I still blush today when someone starts talking to me or I start talking about me, it is definitely something that gets easier if you’ve done it a time or two.
Because women aren’t encouraged to do that in society, let alone in business or engineering – talk about their accomplishments. And yet, women absolutely everywhere have those accomplishments. But it’s having to cross that Rubicon of doing it, because you know that if you don’t, you’re not going to advance as you should.
Exactly. Things I want are going to be blocked off from me unless I do this, for no other reason than I can’t do this, can’t talk about my achievements, despite having done everything that practically matters to get the achievements.
In fairness, both women and men will face those moments in business and engineering, but as you say, women are distinctly not encouraged to talk about what they’ve accomplished, so that imposter syndrome becomes its own barrier to advancement. If you want to go further and higher, you’ve got to de-program yourself out of that.
You said that you also had sponsors who were helpful to get your name and your accomplishments known?
Yes. The importance of having good leaders and mentors and advocates can’t be overstated.
If you can’t see it, you can’t be it, right?
Are there enough out there to encourage the new generation? Enough women in leadership roles to help the new generation say “I can do that”?
Do we need more official training in doing that kind of mentoring and sponsorship? Or is it enough to simply have more women in leadership roles, period?
I get super excited when we get resumes from women, because they still aren’t as common as they should be. But that means we definitely have a lot more work to do to get women engaged and excited about engineering.
Engaging with the “Whys.”
I personally participate in what’s called the Great American Teaching every year, where I go to either an elementary school or a middle school and share my story. Share what I do for a living, the types of customers I deal with, the types of solutions that we provide. And when I relate that to something that they know, then they get it.
I mentioned in Part 1 that Presidio gives me the ability to touch so many different clients with so many different solutions that whether someone is flying in an airplane or going on a cruise or watching television or going to the grocery store, or going to the bank, Presidio has a hand in that.
And when you tell the story from a “Why is engineering important?” standpoint, and explain the impact it can have, I think it provides some inspiration for girls to think about it and go “Gosh, I can do that!” So I definitely participate in that every year because I think it’s important and the kids seem to love it.
And in a sense, that’s early years mentorship, opening up the girls’ minds to what they can do – probably at a time when they’ve already heard that things like engineering are “for boys.”
Right. And that has to continue, too, so I participate in women’s panels.
I’ve done that a couple of different times and I did one last summer, where there was a girl’s leadership seminar and they asked me to speak in the panel.
When we invest in those types of activities, specifically targeting women, girls, teenagers, to go through these types of leadership programs, or coding camps, or internships, then we can obviously draw them in, help develop them and then you know, it could just be that they fall in love with technology in the “Whys.” Why technology is important. Why the impact of what we do is what it is.
There’s more to do there.
Progress in recruitment.
How about in recruitment? It’s all very well it being a thrill to get resumes from women, but they’re still very much the minority, right?
At Presidio specifically, we’ve changed the way we recruit. We have changed our job descriptions to be more engaging. Because lots of women won’t apply for a job unless they feel they’re more than 100% qualified for it. So our wording now is less “You must have this, this and this,” and more easygoing, so women feel they can apply for jobs with us. In addition to that, we’re not just using the standard LinkedIn dice.
We’re trying to meet the women where they are. So we’re using supplier diverse partners, and there’s a whole list of those.
Instead of just putting something out there on LinkedIn, we’re targeting women where they are and putting more women in our audience.
That’s a pretty innovative approach.
And the cool thing is, we’re promoting our culture better, with all the DEI efforts that Presidio is making, which really started in the last few years. We’ve really made an impact with that.
We have what’s called the Presidio Future Built Scholarship program. So we are getting the talent in, we’re providing an internship, and then providing the opportunity for advanced education.
That’s pretty huge.
One thing is I mentioned earlier – I did get the Presidio Distinguished Professionals – went for it, pushed through, and got it. But one of the things we did when we first got going is we were looking at initiatives and where we were lacking at Presidio, what could we put our stamp on to help bring women up and embrace the next generation of technology leaders.
What we did was we created a mentorship program. That allows people to create a safe space to get guidance, talk about their strengths, talk about how to enhance their strengths, talk about their weaknesses, and how to improve on them. They can ask for advice or help – and get them when they need them.
The last thing I’d say about how we can improve things for women is that we have to help our teams get educated. Our teams need to learn to think differently.
Women bring so much diversity in our thinking, in the way we approach things, and the organization of things, that it’s really more of a complementary thing than an adversarial thing.
When we learn that, whether it’s women or whether it’s other individuals of underrepresentation, and we bring people together, it creates all of this innovation and collaboration, and the outcomes are just endless in terms of what we can do together.
25 September 2023
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