To celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), we talk to some our female engineers about their experience of being a woman in engineering.
Name: Courtney Boehmer
Job Title: Contracts Administrator
Location: GKN Aerospace Garden Grove, CA, US
In her first year at university Courtney Boehmer designed, built and integrated her own circuit board for a satellite that was launched into space with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), yet during the years that followed she has had to fight to achieve her dream of becoming an engineer.
During her college years, Courtney suffered from an eating disorder, and the anxiety and depression that came with it. She eventually had to take time off to get medical help. “It may sound odd to people who have never dealt with an eating disorder, but it actually works as a coping mechanism to feel a sense of control. Even when my health was stable, I still had severe anxiety. I had to relearn the very basic skill of handling stress.”
When Courtney was ready to return to her studies, she wasn’t able to deal with being a full-time student and focus on being healthy. “Honestly I felt weak and like a failure. My parents, who were concerned for my wellbeing, tried to convince me to change to an easier major at a less challenging school closer to home.” It was with the help of another female engineer that Courtney was able to transition back into her studies. An Assistant Dean in the College of Engineering sat her down and explained that she couldn’t look at this like a personality flaw. “I realised that I had an illness and this may change the usual college path for me, but it didn’t have to change my dreams.”
“Thanks to the Assistant Dean’s confidence in me, I persevered.” Courtney decided to stay at university and stick to the major that she loved. She was part-time for a year, but then slowly increasing her workload. “I was at university for six years, but it was absolutely worth it.” At the beginning of 2017, Courtney joined GKN’s International Graduate Programme and is currently on her first assignment as a contract administrator at GKN Aerospace Garden Grove in California, US. “I’m the kind of person who hates feeling complacent—I want to be constantly challenged. By having to learn a new role and actually make an impact for the company in six months, I learn a lot. Rotational assignments give you exposure to different areas so that when you do settle on a permanent position, you know what you’re getting into. The company is investing in me and allowing me to see different cultures all around the world. It’s an experience that is truly unique.”
“It’s naïve to say there isn’t a difference for women in engineering. At my school, there was only 8% female in electrical engineering. When I interned as a reliability engineer, I was in an office with about 40 men, and then there was me. It’s something to which you have to get accustomed. The key is, don’t look at it like a disadvantage. Some people will have low expectations for female engineers, but proving them wrong is very satisfying. Also, you’ll find networking as a female engineer is easier. Organizations such as the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Women in Engineering Program (WEP) help girls succeed and find great jobs.”