At 3M, we want all employees to have careers full of challenging experiences while making a difference. Here, women in STEM inspire us every day by asking important questions and devoting their life’s work to finding the answers.
We recently asked two of our female electrical engineers to sit down with each other and chat about what drew them to 3M and the electrical engineering field, their experiences at 3M, and what it’s like working as a woman in STEM. Both are part of our Engineering Systems and Technologies team, but each woman is at a different point in her career. Iraina Edwards is an engineer with three years under her belt at 3M, and Katrina Hale is an engineering manager with 27 years of 3M experience.
Iraina: My interest in STEM started with electricity. I just loved figuring out how stuff works. As a kid I was always intrigued by electrical sockets. I would ask myself, why would I get a little buzz if I stick my finger in there? What is going on between the light switch and the light that makes it come on?
Katrina: My story is completely different. When I graduated from high school I never thought about being an engineer. I wanted to be an accountant because I liked math. Then I got a summer contract with the Army Corps of Engineers and ended up working with them every summer and winter break for the next three years. I worked with civil engineers and decided I didn’t want to do that, then tried chemical engineering but hated organic chemistry. Then I met a guy in the Corps who was an electrical engineer and became fascinated by what he was doing. That’s where my interest in electrical engineering started.
Iraina: I describe my job to my nieces and nephews as being similar to a recipe. You have your end product, but in order to make it you need to use a recipe. My job is to figure out how to get the recipe down to the machine so the product can be made. Equally important, I also collect any data about how the process went.
Katrina: Simply put, I make the machines work.
Iraina: I think 3M as a whole is so awesome. Every day I get to be part of a collaborative team working hard to do cool stuff. My family jokes that I drink the 3M Kool-Aid, but 3M was by far the best of any company I interviewed with.
One of the biggest things I’ve noticed since working here is that though each of us may have individual goals, we’re all working toward the same end result. Also, the amount that we do with sustainability and volunteering with 3Mgives makes me so proud to work here.
Katrina: I agree that most employees drink the Kool-Aid. Being a 3Mer means you believe 3M’s vision of touching every life and making it better.
Iraina: I’ve read a lot of leadership books, and one concept I keep coming back to is the wheel of life—staying balanced in all areas of your life. Last year, I got a mentor at 3M and he gives me homework or tasks to work on in between our meetings. He is very knowledgeable about 3M but also doesn’t hold back from helping me with any dilemmas I’m having in my personal and professional life. He’s helped me decide which opportunities I should jump on and which aren’t right for me.
Katrina: I have an outside leadership coach who helps me to maintain balance and stay grounded. I run my ideas past her and ask for feedback because sometimes I can get into my own head and just need someone to bounce ideas off of. She keeps me focused on my goals outside of work too, which is just as important.
Iraina: My first year required a lot of hard work. I struggled a lot because I was trying to learn how to do something I didn’t enjoy doing. Three years in, I feel more settled and less reserved. I speak up more and jump on opportunities.
Katrina: There have been so many technical changes with the explosion of technology. When I started, people were sharing computers. It’s not even apples to oranges – it’s apples to steaks.
Iraina: Yes, absolutely. My boss is a huge advocate for women in engineering.
Katrina: I’ve had a series of bosses who have either pointed out opportunities or have said yes when I have asked for more opportunities. There’s so much support here for women in STEM.
Iraina: Many times, especially in my department where there are not many women at all. A lot of vendors are around my dad’s age and I sometimes felt like they treated me like their daughter. I always aim to speak up, make eye contact and try not to get discouraged when they don’t reach out. I take the initiative and reach out to them.
Katrina: I am in more meetings where I am the only woman than ones where I am not. Body language plays a big role in how people perceive you and communicate with you. It goes back to confidence – use it. Sit up straight and project your voice.
Iraina and Katrina’s stories are truly inspiring and at 3M, we want to make sure all of our employees’ voices are heard. Whether you’re a candidate who has interviewed with 3M or a current employee, we’d love for you to anonymously share your experiences with us on our Glassdoor page.