Panel discussions hope to attract women to industry


Meghan Rochelle

Laine Heikel discusses her role as Senior Project Manager at Confluence Health.

Jessica Perez, Staff Reporter

The first annual Women in Industry panel was held on Oct. 3 in the SURC Theater. It was hosted by the Department of Engineering Technologies, Safety, and Construction (ETSC) in efforts to attract more women to industry fields. The panel lasted almost four hours and discussed why industry fields are an option for women in the workforce.

Many students in attendance asked questions about what opportunities are available for women going into industry fields.

The Chair of the Department of Engineering Technologies, Safety, and Construction, Sathyanarayanan Rajendran, wanted this panel to help communicate that his department is not only for males, but for female students as well.

“When I ran the numbers, I looked at all the departments on campus, and we were the least gender diverse department on campus,” Rajendran said. “That’s not acceptable, we have to be more welcoming, inclusive, for all students on campus. Especially given we have 52-53 percent women going to Central, only having like 7 percent women in our department is unacceptable.”

Since the ETSC department has a small percentage of women, they hoped the panel would help increase the number of female students interested in the majors within the department. The goal is for the department to be at least 15 percent female. However, other areas of the department, like safety, have set their own goals for what they would like to see.

“Some programs like safety set a goal to be at 25 percent,” Rajendran said. This being the case, the panelists were invited to talk about expanding opportunities in education and employment for women.

Anne F. Soiza, Assistant Director at the WA State Department of Labor and Industries, is also the only woman out of all the panelists that works in the public sector of industry.

The panel consisted of these panelists talking about their experience in the workforce as women, in what are thought to be jobs for men, and how exactly they got into industry jobs.

“I got into industry because my mentor and advisor looked at me and said ‘you’d make a great engineer,’” Teresa King, Engineering Project Manager, said. “He said just sign up and see where it goes.”

King now has 27 years of experience and she said she loves her job because she gets to work on the “latest, coolest stuff,” like airplane parts. Not many people get to see those parts until they are finished being developed years later when on the actual airplane.

Most of the women on the panel mentioned that they got into their profession because it matched their skill set, but some had other reasons for trying industry out.

“All of us got into these jobs because they pay,” Soiza said.

Women who go into industry jobs tend to make their way up the ladder fairly quickly and become successful. As Soiza pointed out, she has been very successful in her field.

“I have 400 people working for me” Soiza said.

While women are usually successful in industry fields, the panelists also acknowledged that there are some challenges that women in these professions face. One of the biggest challenges being that, because they’re women on worksites full of men, they often stand out. Laine Heikel, a Senior Project Manager for Confluence Health, points out that it is not always in a way they want to stand out.

“Being the girl on the construction site, most people thought I was the secretary, and I had to be like ‘no I’m the engineer, how can I help you?’” Laine Heikel, Senior Project Manager for Confluence Health said.

Mandi Kime, Director of Safety at Associated General Contractors of WA, discussed that even though there are challenges to being one of the only women on a worksite, that shouldn’t stop women from going into industry fields, and women shouldn’t ask for permission to be in any space in the first place.

“I walk onto a worksite with a purple hard-hat and flaming red hair, and I don’t ask permission,” Kime said.

Meagan Santos, V.P. at Western Integrated Technologies, mentioned that although there are several challenges to being a woman in an industry job, the majority of what you hear from coworkers is support. “There is overwhelming support from men, who are your colleagues, it’s phenomenal,” Santos said.  

Kate Smiley Crawford, Director of Safety and Health at Hensel Phelps Services, LLC, added that there is a role for everyone in construction, no matter the gender.

“We build better teams when we are inclusive,” Crawford said.

Rajendran hopes that students were inspired by the panel and that they will see that industry is an option for women as well as men.