#NEM2017 stories: Rebecca Kresta, GE Aviation
EWB is celebrating National Engineering Month all this week with stories from our community of awesome engineers! Technology is changing at a lightening speed and we need a mix of diverse, creative, curious, and rigorous thinkers to make sure we are innovative, stay ahead, and serve the world. ‘There’s a Place For You’ is this year’s theme for NEM and we hope you’ll be inspired by these stories to pursue your own exciting path in the field of engineering and technology.
I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, where the winters are cold, the river valley is long and the cross-country skiing community is vibrant. However when I was born, three-wheeled strollers had four wheels, and cross-country ski sleds for kids didn’t exist yet. To get outside in the winter, my parents wrapped me into a sled that my dog pulled whenever we walked the 10 blocks to my grandparent’s house. While this was a GREAT substitute, my mum still sighs enviously each time she sees the wonders of modern parenting. These innovations have allowed parents to stay active and healthy while raising their children, but the need for them was not realized until women started working in design and men started taking a larger role in parenting. This is just one example of how diversity in design teams has allowed a transformative shift in our society, a cause that I quietly but deeply support.
FROM DOGSLEDS TO JET ENGINES
It’s been many years since I was strapped into my child-sized dogsled; I’m now living in Bromont, Quebec working for GE Aviation as an industrial engineer manufacturing jet engines. (I work down the hall from our robotics centre for excellence; it’s a really fun job to talk about!) I’ve been living on the fringes of the engineering diversity conversation for the entirety of my life. My mum is an engineer, as is my sister, so it’s a conversation that I’ve witnessed and participated for as long as I can remember. I also grew up being reminded that an engineer’s first responsibility is to serve the world. The things we work on can have a tremendous impact on people’s lives, for good or for bad.
Diversity is important not because it allows us to solve the problems better but because it demands that engineering solve different problems. Imagine a table of engineers: let’s say there is a Moroccan mother, a transgendered 40 year old, someone in a wheelchair, a 20 year old hockey player who wears a turban and someone who grew up in rural Nova Scotia and plays fiddle on the weekends. What kind of problem might they be discussing? It could be anything! No matter the problem, I bet that, if allowed, they could each bring a passion to the table that would change the world for them and those like them. But if this is the first time this group of people have worked together, they will need to move more slowly. Working in diverse teams is not easy, it takes time and effort to understand one another and find ways to work together. But I believe that it is worth it, not only so that the best people are doing the work regardless of their skin colour or gender, but also so that the problems of all societies and walks of life can benefit from the voice and energy of the engineering profession.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If you want to increase diversity and inclusion in the engineering profession here are some ideas of things you could do:
If you are an engineer
- Mentor someone who may not know they could be an engineer. Particularly in rural areas there are a lot of fantastic people who don’t know what engineers do.
- Set up structures that support inclusion (for example: networks for women, people of colour, etc.) in your organization.
If you aren’t an engineer
- Re-evaluate what you think of when you hear the word ‘engineer.’ Engineers are a tiny part of the population and we can’t change how we are perceived on our own.
- Demand more from the engineering profession, attend public consultations on public works projects and make sure that the societal and environmental impact are considered in the project.
You can check out these cool resources to learn more about diversity and the challenges that exist for the engineering profession:
- Reflection on diversity in engineering and the shootings at Polytechnique
- Grand Challenges Engineering
- Three Beautiful Human Minutes (video from Denmark on diversity)
- 99percentinvisible.org: I love this podcast. It comes in succinct 20 min segments which talk about the aspects of our lives that we rarely notice but have a huge impact on how we live. This is the area where the majority of engineering lives. When you drive, you may not think about the angle of the exit that keeps you on the road. When you take off in an airplane, I bet you don’t think about the intense precision used to build the engine parts to ensure that you will land safely. But an engineer did. In fact, a lot of engineers did. As a rough estimate it probably takes the input of over 500 engineers to design and build just the engine of an airplane. These massive teams of engineers must be diverse in both their technical strengths and their backgrounds in order to succeed.