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Mentors Make All the Difference

I have been an engineer in the aerospace industry for 20 years. During that time, I have seen an increase in the number of female engineers. However, we are still struggling to keep these women as they mature in their careers. Without female leaders, mentors and role models, it’s difficult to get women to pursue STEM degrees in college, let alone thrive in the workplace. 

Early in my career, I didn’t seek female mentors because I thought I needed to act like a male engineer and be part of the “old boys’ club” to get ahead. I’ve learned how wrong that impression is. It’s very important to find a mentor you respect and share common interests with.  

It’s important to have a mentor(s) during those early career years who tells you, “It’s OK to feel/act that way” and “You can do this.” I had great role models and mentors throughout my career, many times without even knowing it. They gave me that nudge or confidence boost I needed to complete a task or take the next step. 

When I became a leader of leaders, I began to notice how often I was providing guidance or reassurance to my leaders and watching them succeed. I’ve mentored female engineers who were told by their manager that they didn’t have the years or experiences to advance in their careers. Sometimes it was warranted, but many times I saw their male engineering counterparts obtain opportunities when the female engineers were not given those chances. I took it upon myself to prepare those female engineers, encourage them to apply for those opportunities, and watch them bloom. 

Mentoring is not just a monthly meeting in the office. To be an effective mentor, you need to establish a bond with your mentee. My preferred method is to find that common bond and participate in an activity together. In engineering, we frequently volunteer in STEM activities. It sets a great example for the recipients to see women of various generations working together and supporting each other.   

Here are a few activities to consider: 

  • Volunteer with organizations that promote female empowerment. Girl Scouts and Girls Inc. are great examples of places to volunteer. 
  • Read STEM-focused books to children. Studies have shown that you need to capture children’s interest in math and science by third grade. 
  • Participate in a fundraising activity together, like a charity walk or Habitat for Humanity build. 
  • Be a mentor to your local college’s Society of Women Engineering (SWE) organization. 

I am hopeful that the number of women will continue to increase in STEM industries. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to mentor women, you can be a role model for people by setting the best example daily. No matter your career, having a mentor is important for your growth and being a mentor helps you give back and make an impact on the future. 

“In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care. You must care. You don’t have to know how many square miles are in Idaho, you don’t need to know what is the chemical makeup of chemistry, or of blood or water. Know what you know and care about the person, care about what you know and care about the person you’re sharing with.” – Maya Angelou 

Stacy Garfield

Epsilon Alpha-Missouri University of Science and Technology