By Minal Singh
Northwest Asian Weekly
On Friday, Feb. 6, at the China Harbor Restaurant, the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation hosted a luncheon to honor female professionals who are making a difference by working in male-dominated careers. This occasion marked the
20th anniversary of the organization.
Tanye Jimale, the first African American to graduate from the University of Washington with a B.S. in Civil Engineering, was master of ceremonies. Many of the honorees were scientists and engineers. Throughout the luncheon, the honorees imparted much advice for encouraging women of all ages to pursue and succeed with educations and careers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, which are primarily occupied by men.
The 14 Honorees gave short empowering speeches offering advice or insight about their success in fields where they are the gender or racial minority.
Srilakshmi Remala is owner of Remala Consulting LLC, which provides technology and management expertise to non-profits and the education sector. She explained in her speech her inspiration for entering her field.
“My parents inspired us from a young age to have curiosity about computers. For us, technology was a ticket to opportunity.”
Dr. Melissa Rice, who is Assistant Professor of Planetary Science at Western Washington University, like Remala, went to an all-girls school and was appreciative of the positive experience.
“It is important that all women feel freedom in choosing their career and should not be persuaded by the demographics,” Rice said. “Often I will be in a meeting with other scientists, and I’ll look around realizing that I am the only woman in a room of thirty people,” she said.
Cheryl Paston, Deputy Public Works Director for the City of Sammamish, spoke about raising daughters to care about math and science.
“Stop every once in awhile to feed your daughter’s curiosity. Help your daughter discover the scientific answers behind her questions. Tell her how proud you are of the skills she develops about numbers, about abstract concepts, about how stuff works,” she said.
Stephanie Caldwell is the Small Business Program Manger for Absher Construction Company and has worked in construction for 16 years. She shared some of her grandmother’s points of wisdom.
“Be yourself. Follow your passion. Use your God-given gifts. Don’t blame others for what you don’t have. Don’t give up,” she said.
Kim Pastega was named vice president of Production System Operations for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. She discussed the importance of female mentors and bonding with female colleagues.
“Look for role models. When you go into a role that’s traditionally male-dominated, it is important to see other women that are successful and powerful. Pursue your dreams. Set your goals high and proceed with confidence. Sometimes when you take a risk you might fail. Most importantly: Women need to support other women,” she said.
Dr. Gita Bangera is Dean of Undergraduate Research at Bellevue College. She said, “There’s a theme here. The women here honored are changing the rules around. Young women should dream. Dream big.”
Dr. Joyce Yen fundamentally echoed the words of honorees speaking before her: “I’ve been in male-dominated meetings and I’ve made a point of looking for female colleagues—a posse. Posses provide community and support. To be in a room of female engineers or scientists feels different, especially women who are used to being a minority in the room. Find your posse.”
Yen is the Program-Research Manager for the UW ADVANCE Center for Institutional Change.
Kelly Knebel is a pilot for Alaska Airlines. She advised young women to pursue their passion.
“I became a pilot because I had a passion for it. My love of flying not only helped me enter a male-dominated field, but to stay in it,” she said.
Kathleen O’Toole, Seattle Police Chief, was also honored. She spoke about her early
years preparing for college and career. Her guidance counselor discouraged her from entering her first field of choice, which was law.
“That’s great, Kathleen, but I really think you should consider something more appropriate for a woman, said my counselor, which made me even more determined to become a lawyer,” she said.
Michelle Mills Clement, Executive Director and CEO of Commercial Brokers Association (CBA), offered advice for women in male-dominated fields.
“Most people (I work with) don’t look like me, by gender, by race or by age. Every time I walk into a room, I think it’s just going to be me. So my advice is to get a male mentor, find a male advocate, display confidence, have an edge, don’t be afraid to be a little different, and keep a good support system,” Clement said.
Linda De Boldt, Public Works Director for the City of Redmond, spoke about the importance of encouragement for women who are in male-dominated professions.
“To get where I am, I received encouragement from family and friends, from formal and informal mentors. When I started my career, there weren’t many other women. I benefited from the help of colleagues. There is no reason for the fear of entering a male-dominated career,” she said.
Shira Broschat, a professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and adjunct faculty in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health and in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology at Washington State University, was asked to describe why it’s difficult to be in a field dominated by men.
She compared the situation to water drop torture.
“After a while you find that there’s a hole in you. We (as women) don’t have to keep taking these small slights. They add up drop by drop. There are corrections we can make,” she said.
Tina Soike, Director of Engineering Services, expressed common themes of the luncheon in her speech.
“Have confidence in what you know. Don’t hesitate to speak your opinion. Don’t underestimate your ability to influence and contribute to those major decisions that happen in our corporations and agencies today. Conduct yourself professionally but don’t take yourself too seriously. Relax. Be yourself. Be your whole self, as a woman and as a person in your community. Lastly, learn from mentors, both male and female. Be open to possibilities because there are many routes to the end destination,” she said.
Dawn Gidner, a member of the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, was honored for her work as a radar systems engineer at Honeywell Aerospace. She spoke of her early fascination with how things work.
“My parents were my biggest, early inspiration. They completely supported me when I wanted to build things instead of play with dolls. They always told me to believe in myself, follow my dreams and I could do anything I wanted,” she said.
The luncheon ended with a big raffle prize donated by Alaskan Airlines. Jennifer Jacobson was the lucky recipient of two plane tickets to fly anywhere she likes. (end)
Minal Singh can be reached at email@example.com.