What is your educational background?
I received my Bachelors in Civil Engineering from Iowa State, and then went on to receive my Masters in Environmental Engineering at University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. Graduated in 2010.
Where are you currently employed and what is your job title?
Recently, I was employed at BNSF Railway, Co. My title is (was) Senior Manager Environmental Operations – Air Quality.
In 2-3 sentences please describe your current role.
I was responsible for the mobile-source Air Quality and Climate Change programs at BNSF. I was also a part of the Battery-Electric Initiative team that led the effort to assess and implement near-zero and zero-emission technology. I was integral in getting the company a $22.6M grant from California Air Resources Board to pilot North America’s first battery-electric locomotive.
Why should women think about a career in rail?
The rail industry desperately needs women in leadership roles, as it is very male-dominated. Any industry suffers when they are missing out on talented women, especially when that talent is not filled at high-levels within the company. Plus, at BNSF, there are so many “good” problems to be solved; what I mean by that is, you have the opportunity to work on complex issues that can make a significant impact on people’s lives. The problems that face the industry are big – for example, how do we transition to a low-carbon economy when rail is so dependent on fossil fuels? These problems are going to take dedicated people who deeply care about what they do.
How did you end up working in the rail industry?
My environmental graduate work was researching oil spills from railroad tank cars. So, I ended up working for a wonderful professor, Chris Barkan, who had connected me to several railroad companies. By the time I graduated, I had several offers from Class I Railroads. I chose BNSF and I am very glad I did.
What are the main challenges as a female leader?
Due to unconscious bias, in addition to outright prejudice, female leaders are not judged on the same level as their male counterparts. As a female leader, typically, you have to outperform your male-collegues in order to excel within the company. With males, it’s performance AND potential. Not to mention, women are judged on factors such as having children, getting married, burdens at home, etc.. This is rarely, if ever, a part of the discussion with males. Females also take on more of the domestic work at home. Making “work-life balance” more challenging.
What advice would you give to women trying to break into engineering and technology fields?
My advice for women is really the same for everyone – at the end of the day, it’s about your work ethic. What are you doing when no one is watching? But really, my biggest advice isn’t for women, it’s for the men. Change and tradition power structures will not evolve without the support and active role of those currently in leadership roles, which are mostly men. Until men step up and actively recognize and support women for things like: being passed over for promotions despite their qualifications and potential or not growing to their full potential due to lack of mentorship, we will not move the needle.
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