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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Women in Technology

by Emily Feliz

I am very pleased to have been a part of the Avionics Magazine Women in Technology Awards Program and Luncheon, which took place June 4 in Washington, D.C. When we conceived this awards program about a year ago, we could never have imagined the outpouring of support and the level of enthusiasm we got from this industry.

The awards highlighted women who have risen to the top ranks within the aerospace industry. Throughout their careers, the women have had significant impacts on a vast array of technologies, including unmanned aircraft systems, GPS, radar technologies, synthetic vision systems, satellite systems and next-generation cockpit displays. Additionally, the awards showcased the work of corporations that are doing their part to promote and cultivate the next-generation of engineers in the aerospace industry. Collectively, the women recognized by these awards have held positions with Boeing, ARINC, Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and more. The women have forged a new path for the colleagues that will come after them.

The honorees included:

➤ Nan Mattai, senior vice president of engineering and technology at Rockwell Collins, was named Woman of the Year. Mattai is the highest ranking female executive at the company and manages the company’s global engineering workforce of 8,000 engineering professionals.

➤ Christine Haissig, technology fellow from Honeywell, was finalists for the Woman of the Year award.

The awards highlighted women who have risen to the top ranks within the aerospace industry.

➤ Claire Leon, vice president, national programs from Boeing, was a finalist for the Woman of the Year award.

➤ Jean Valentine, program manager, radar systems of General Atomics, was a finalist for the Woman of the Year award.

➤ Patricia Ververs, technology fellow at Honeywell, was named the 2012 Emerging Leader.

➤ Bingen, Wash.-based Insitu, which manufacturers unmanned aircraft systems, received the Corporate Leader award.

My favorite part of the event was moderating a panel of the winners to discuss their experiences as women in this industry, how this has changed and how they see it changing in the future. Many of these women are wives and mothers, and selfishly, as a mother of two young children, I was hoping to pick their brain on how they make the work-life balance work.

“I didn’t know what I didn’t know, I didn’t know that I was probably hired because of affirmative action, and I didn’t know that you didn’t go to your boss’s boss’s boss and complain about your assignment,” Leon said. “I think engineering is such a great career. It’s more than a career; we build things that make a difference to the world, and we need more people to join the field. So awards like this hopefully will inspire more women and minorities to join the field.”

It was so fascinating to watch the dynamic on the panel. Erika Langhauser, a software engineer at Insitu, is just starting her professional career, and she discussed her experience as a young female engineer. She said her college career at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, with its 7-to-1 male-to-female ratio, prepared her well for the gender disparity she has seen in the aerospace industry. At the same time, Valentine said she was the only woman in her graduating engineering class at California Polytechnic University. And 30 years or so later, her three daughters are all eyeing careers in engineering. “A lot of aircraft integration, avionics integration, space avionics integration over the span of my career, it’s been fun,” said Valentine.

The whole panel agreed that outreach programs promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields need to reach young girls in elementary, middle and high schools. In addition to being a part of revolutionary technological innovations that have a real impact on people’s lives, the work is fun, and that message needs to be communicated to young girls.

“They just need the opportunity to marry the engineering side of things with the interest side of things, and we need to help build those bridges and show them the cool things that we all get to do in our jobs and show them that’s where you go if you do well in science, math and engineering,” said Ververs.

The awards showcased the work of corporations that are doing their part to promote and cultivate the next-generation of engineers in the aerospace industry.

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