Because of the post I wrote last week about Third Wave Feminism and the infamous “Google memo” that resulted in a male engineer being fired, I decided to interview a friend of mine about her experience in the engineering field. She is 26. Her name is Colleen.
What is your current occupation?
My current title is ‘Customer and Product Support Representative’ in John Deere’s Turf and Utility platform. Prior to this role, I worked in the Performance and Reliability Engineering department.
How do you feel you are treated as a female employee by your co-workers? By your supervisors?
For a corporate business, John Deere has a very amicable work culture. I do not feel like my gender has held me back in any facet of my professional life at Deere.
Do you have any incidences of having been discriminated at work because you are a woman?
My industry is so heavily male-dominated and my current position is very dealer/customer facing, I actually think being a woman has been beneficial. I recently went on a week-long trip to Scotland where we traveled to five different golf courses and met with over 50 customers. I was the only woman present the entire trip. It’s kind of funny after a while you don’t really notice it. And don’t get me wrong, you definitely have to be willing to work hard and demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. But once you establish those relationships, some of my biggest supporters have been the men I’ve worked with.
How do you figure out if you are being paid the same as a man who has the same job?
I have never actually tried to compare salaries with a male counterpart at this point, but I do know Deere has a pretty standard, entry salary for engineers with a Bachelor’s degree regardless of gender. I think the bigger discrepancy between genders (at least in industry) is not at the entry level, but at higher grade levels. For example, there are zero women on the Turf and Utility Platform Engineering Managers’ level. The current Engineering Global Director is actively working to change that, though, which I think is pretty inspiring.
In college, what was your motivation in going into engineering?
I was lucky enough to have close family members (an aunt, an uncle, and cousins) who worked for Ford as engineers. Based on my affinity for all things math and science, they encouraged me to pursue engineering. It was great to be able to talk to family members who could vouch for engineering and all of the opportunities it could open up.
Did this motivation date earlier in your education?
I knew I loved math and science (especially chemistry) since I was a little girl, but I kind of fell into engineering as a major in high school once I started talking with family members.
What do you like about your job today?
The best thing about my current position is being able to resolve issues for our customers. Even a few hours of downtime can mean thousands of dollars for our customers, so being able to provide a solution can make a real difference. I truly enjoy being out in the field with our field staff, dealers, and customers. And I love that every day is a new challenge.
Would you call yourself a feminist today? Why or why not?
I would consider myself a feminist purely based on the definition. I feel like a lot of people associate feminism with active protesting, which I wouldn’t say I do. But I do try to support it through outreach programs that encourage young girls to pursue STEM interests/curriculum/careers.
How would you define feminism?
I think in its simplest form, feminism is simply equal rights regardless of gender.
Would you say that most of your friends who are women would identify as feminists?
I’m not sure. I do think that the word feminism has gotten a bad “rap,” which is really unfortunate. I think all women (and men) should identify as a feminist. I think most people who don’t, simply don’t understand the definition of feminism.
What barriers do you think exist today for women and careers in the United States or aren’t there any?
I think women in this country are actually extremely fortunate. While there are still certainly barriers (less than 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women), it is still attainable in this country. Not every country can say that. That’s why I’m such an advocate for groups that introduce girls to science and math at a young age. Getting girls excited about math (and keeping them excited through middle and high school) can make all the difference.
Consider your childhood. Were you treated differently by your parents in comparison to your brother? If yes, how did or do you deal with that?
I don’t think I was treated too differently. I grew up with very democratic parents, so I think that made a huge difference. After my first year of baseball in third grade, my dad did tell me I had to start “playing softball with the girls,” so I quit. But I don’t think my baseball career was going too far, anyways.
What toys did you play with?
I really like the “designing” part of the toys I had growing up. Either staging the dollhouse, or dressing up Barbie dolls. I never really enjoyed “playing house.” That was always too abstract for me. I seem to remember having a lot of toys where I would set up cities or build houses. I also shared a lot of toys with my younger brother, so there were a fair amount of Legos in my childhood. I think growing up with a brother and a dad I was really close to kept me interested in “boy” stuff – throwing the football around, playing video games, etc. I was never really worried about whether something was girly or not, I just did what I liked. And really my parents always encouraged that.
What would you change about girls’ education today?
Definitely getting girls interested in math and science earlier and then keeping them interested. I think a lot of girls show a passion for those subjects at an early age, and then by middle school will shy away from them to “impress” a boy, or not be seen as too nerdy or too smart. You would think that in this day and age that would no longer be relevant, but it definitely still happens. I think providing the encouragement to pursue those interests during that age is critical.
Were you raised in a religious household? If yes, do you think that contributed to how you were treated as a girl?
My father was raised Catholic and my mother was raised Lutheran (Catholic light, as she called it), but we honestly only attended church when my brother and I were very young. By the time I was 9 or 10 (he was 7-8), he and I were both so busy – me with dance and him with baseball/football – that I think my parents needed some down time. I don’t know that attending church (service, mass, etc.) was ever really a priority for them, either.
How would you identify yourself today – religious, agnostic, atheist?
I probably associate most with agnosticism. I believe in something bigger than us, but not necessarily the way Christianity sees it.
What advice would you give to young girls today in terms of pursuing non-traditional careers for women?
At this point I’m only four years into a full-time career, but I already see so many future opportunities with my engineering background. I plan to start an MBA program in the spring of 2018. With a technical background and my MBA, I think the only limit on my career is what I choose to pursue.
Karen L. Garst
The Faithless Feminist
August 12, 2017