Engineering bewilders many people. At dinner parties, we're often asked: "But what do you actually do all day?" Add being female engineers to the mix and people have even more questions.
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The perception that we spend all hours sitting in front of our screens, staring at complex equations and working in isolated bubbles, can make many young women (or men, for that matter) shy away from the field.
But as industrial engineers, we've found careers with the perfect combination of math, science, and (yes, really) interaction with others. In fact, it's what we love most about our jobs.
Every day at work is different and exciting because industrial engineering bridges the gap between science and people. We develop new, creative ways to make processes better, use numbers to demonstrate our theories, and work with others to get everyone on board. That means we have the opportunity to interact with operators on the manufacturing floor, all the way up to giving presentations to the CEO. Collaborative projects with people across every job function – accounting, HR, IT, marketing, transportation, purchasing, planning, and more – allow us to share our expertise while learning from others.
Encouraging young women to enter the field of engineering is important because we can be positive change-makers within organizations. Our unique perspectives deserve to be heard. Many family members and friends cautioned us that, as women entering a predominately male field, we would face challenges. What we've found is that maintaining strong voices and confidence in our abilities is crucial. Many women have a hard time gaining the respect of others because they refrain from exposing high levels of confidence. The truth is, we must in order to be successful.
There aren't many hit TV shows featuring casts of industrial engineers (we're still working on our Hollywood pitch), so we realize it can be hard to visualize a career in the field. To the women and men who are interested in pursuing careers in engineering, here are some tips from our experience:
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1. College Visits Are Important
Get a feel for the culture of the institution and what is offered. Ask about mentorship opportunities. You may want to consider a program that offers a combined five-year undergraduate and graduate degree program or a school that facilitates real-world experiences through co-ops and internships.
One of the best ways to discover where you're meant to be is to take advantage of overnight visits. Sit in on classes and witness what it's like to be an engineering major.
2. Don't Be Afraid to Take That Math Class
Yes, it will probably be hard. Once you accept that fact, just keep moving forward. Study as much as you can, work with a friend, find a tutor – whatever you have to do. Don't give up.
Once you get started in your program, remind yourself that you are not stuck. Class projects and internships can help you determine what you do not want to do just as much as they can help you discover what you enjoy doing. If suddenly one area of engineering appeals to you more than another (one of us made the switch from civil to industrial!), work with your advisor and change your classes.
3. When You're Ready to Job Hunt, Track Your Applications in a Journal
Record where you applied, how you heard about the job, and why it interested you. This will help keep everything organized for easy reference when you're interviewing.
4. Don't be Intimidate by Job Descriptions That Ask for More Experience Than You Have
Companies aren't always sure of precisely what they're looking for. Your skills and knowledge may be the missing piece they need. Go ahead and send that application in.
5. Speak Up!
Developing your speaking skills and learning to confidently share your ideas is imperative. Be persistent in championing your recommendations. Don't take no for an answer.
If you're the only female in your college class, your internship, or your company's engineering department, seek out other women engineers and talk about your experiences. Tremendous resources are available to you. You may just have to be intentional about finding that support system.
The world needs talented, driven engineers. Find what interests you and fiercely pursue that passion.
Kristin Kentie is the director of supply chain operations for the interiors division at Standard Textile. Lauren Stewart is an engineering supervisor at Standard Textile. Rebecca Herrmann is an industrial engineer at Standard Textile.