Women Engineers Still Desperately Needed

In 1984, when this year’s POWER-GEN 2015 Woman of the Year Kim Greene started engineering school, about 16 percent of her class was made up of women. Today, more than 30 years later, that number has increased to just 18 percent.

Greene, the chief operating office of Southern Company, was one of three finalists for the 2015 Woman of the Year award during Power Generation Week, and on Tuesday, Dec. 8 she took part in a panel discussion during the Women in Power luncheon with her co-finalists Terry Jester, CEO and chairwoman of Silicor Materials, and Roxann Laird, director of the National Carbon Capture Center.

The percentage of women in power is an alarming statistic and was a major topic of discussion for much of the panel. To combat it, Greene believes that everyone should encourage young women to study engineering.

“Fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, school teachers,” she said, explaining that it should be important to all of us to encourage girls to pursue educations in technical fields that will, with hope, ultimately lead to careers in the energy industry.

Laird explained that she does simple things in her household, such as conducting science experiments at birthday parties for her daughter.

Also important is persistence, said Greene. Girls may need a bit of extra encouragement when they do poorly on a test or fail a class. If a mentor can offer words of encouragement like “keep your chin up” and “you can do this,” that may be all that is needed to keep a girl motivated who may otherwise have become discouraged.

As far as rising through the ranks of an organization, Jester believes it isn’t about being the smartest person in the room or always making the right decisions. Women just need to believe that they are capable of being in charge. If you make a mistake, own it and move on, said Greene. It’s OK to admit you are wrong, don’t dig in your heels.

Panelists were also asked for tips on how to re-enter the workplace after a hiatus or switching careers.  All agreed on one thing: “Don’t apologize for the gap.” Jester believes that someone who has re-dedicated herself to the workplace makes for an excellent employee.

At the end of the day, “engineers solve problems,” said Laird. “It’s a fun industry.”

Jester said that there are misperceptions in the industry that engineers are stuck in a cube or an office doing very boring jobs but it is not like that. Those in the industry know it’s fun.

Robynn Andracsek, an engineer with Burns & McDonnell and member of the Women in Power committee, led the panel discussion during the luncheon.

The purpose of the Women in Power committee is to provide role models to inspire young women to pursue careers in energy. Anyone in the energy industry can nominate a woman for the Woman of the year award. Nominations are open from April to August each year.