Welcome to “Pursuit of STEM”

Author: Amy Gritzinger

Whether you’re just starting out in your engineering career, midway through, or looking for an industry change, this series will shine a light on colleagues with various perspectives. Girls in K-12 are watching and it’s never too soon to get them interested in STEM education! From here, we can provide support and resources at the collegiate level, then eventual career pathways. My mission is to impact young girls and inspire them to pursue STEM. This article series will focus on issues women engineers face getting into the STEM careers and areas where improvements can be made to retain women. The interviewees bring their own personal experiences, opinions, and hopes for what’s to come.

In recognition of LGBTQ+ Pride month, my first interview touches on topics like diversity in the workplace, challenges for women engineers in the LGBTQ+ community, and career accomplishments. Meet Kaleigh Mota, a Industry Outreach and Business Capture Analyst for Aerospace and Defense (AR, IoT, MBSE, Digital Twin, CBM+) I've had the pleasure of working along side Kaleigh for years.

Q: What motivated you to go into STEM as a career?

Kaleigh: I was fortunate enough to come into the industry by pure accident. I majored in Communications and was looking for a position in public relations when I came across Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. I started off as a Customer Relations Representative which really helped open my eyes to the industry as well as different technologies. I now work for PTC and love being a part of their team, they have some innovative technologies that are really changing how things are done. After being in the industry, I can’t image working anywhere else.

Q: Did you have a mentor or role model encouraging you along the way? If so, what is the most memorable advice

Kaleigh: I have a few different mentors that have helped me throughout my career. Depending on the project or area I need help in, I may rely on different mentors for support or advice.

One of my mentors always tells me, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” It may be cliché, but it is true. When you surround yourself with intelligent people, you can be inspired and learn new things.

Surrounding myself with people who can help me stay engaged, learn new things or even keep me on my toes has helped my development within my career, and to be able to try out new things I never thought possible.

I enjoy learning about things that push me out of my comfort zone and really push me to my full potential.

Q: What are some of the shortcomings in how STEM is currently being taught and how can academia improve?

Kaleigh: I think overall we need to change the stigma of careers within STEM. There are the beliefs that you need to meet certain criteria, or it is difficult to get into the industry. I think this comes down to a few things, mostly resources and demographics.

Growing up I never thought I would have been “smart enough” or even capable of working within STEM. I also attended schools with limited resources, besides outdated textbooks we didn’t really have any other tools available. Areas like engineering, aviation or robotics were not even on my radar to consider for career paths because I didn’t think the average person could achieve that. If you are not exposed to it, it does not seem achievable.

Q: What can women do to inspire and develop the next generation of girls in STEM/STEAM into education and careers?

Kaleigh: I think more light needs to be shed on women within the industry, and also some of the really cool things that they are doing. Setting up outreach programs and interactive projects would be a good way to attract the next generation.

Q: What are you good at (conflict resolution, mentoring, troubleshooting, project management, public speaking)?

Kaleigh: I am great at project management. I constantly have different projects running at once and honestly, I enjoy it. It allows me to stay engaged and not get bored.

Q: What skills do you recommend for young women at the beginning of their careers in STEM journey?

Kaleigh: Besides the typical skill sets required for STEM, I would say one of the most important skills for a woman in the industry would be confidence. Some women may feel intimidated when they are operating on a predominately male team, they may feel overlooked or as though their opinion may not matter. Do not forget that you earned your seat at the table too.

I also think it is important to recognize that you should not have to take on certain gender stereotypical duties outside of your role because you are female. It may be something as simple as a female employee always being responsible for ordering team lunches or being tasked to book meeting rooms. If these are outside of your role, do not be afraid to speak up.

Q: What can allies in the workforce do to help retain women in engineering?

Kaleigh: I think communication is key, and to understand how women may feel in their workplace. Finding that common ground and being able to relate to coworkers regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, age, or race is huge. Sometimes these factors can cause disconnects unintentionally, if there is open communication then employees can voice their thoughts and feelings.

Q: How do handle situations when a colleague is being Culturally Insensitive, Sexist, Racist, or Homophobic?

Kaleigh: I think education and awareness is one of the most important things for addressing inappropriate situations at work. Some people may not be aware that comments that they make are hurtful or even realize that their actions are being perceived a certain way.

Some employees may not even be aware of the treatment others may receive in the workplace. But it is important for everyone to understand that just because you may not have experienced racism, sexism or homophobia in the workplace, does not mean it does not exist. Every employee should be educated on how to handle situations and what proper actions should be taken by their company standards.

Q: Do you feel the LGBTQ community is underrepresented in tech/STEM?

Kaleigh: To me, it is hard to say. I know that there is a gap overall of LGBTQ+ workers in STEM, but there is no way to fully know how many people are not comfortable to be their true selves in the industry.

I can say from my personal experience from my work history, that there are plenty of resources for employees to not only feel accepted within the workplace, but to make sure that their voices are heard. It is refreshing as some people may be afraid to come out in the workplace, or even worry about how others may view them. But some other companies may have this, and workers can be afraid of coming out or how others may view them.

Q: How do you combat woman and/or a person of color having sexual orientation and gender presumed in the workplace, identities invalidated, disregarding, and misusing pronouns, and using anti-LGBTQ comments or derogatory remarks?

Kaleigh: Luckily, this is not something I have experienced in my career. But I am also aware that just because I have not experienced it, does not mean it does not happen.

If you experience something like this in the workplace, I think it is important to speak up, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. When these situations get ignored or brushed off, then it leads to larger problems such as a hostile work environment or inequality in the workplace.

Q: Are there any women at your company in executive level roles? If not, then how can the culture be improved thus seeing more Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) on the team?

Kaleigh: My company does a great job with diversity and inclusion, there are women in the senior leadership team, and plenty of women leaders throughout the organization. They have several employee resource groups based on shared characteristics, life experiences, or interest around particular activities. It is a great way to network with other workers and build a more inclusive environment.

Q: How do you achieve a work/life balance?

Kaleigh: I have worked from home for a few years, and sometime this can be a challenge! There can be days when a project consumes most of my time, and I realize it is 8PM and I still haven’t eaten lunch. I try to set time for myself during the day to make sure I take breaks, if it be to eat or even a mental health break with my dogs.

Q: What’s next for your career?

Kaleigh: I actually am starting grad school next year and am very excited! I will be working for my MBA in business at Muma College of Business, which is a part of the University of South Florida.

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