An engineering education can be the foundation for a technical career or a path to leadership in high-tech companies, Mary Anne Cannon told hundreds of collegiate and professional members of the Society of Women Engineers at a recent regional conference.
Cannon, vice president of Quality and Environment, Health & Safety at Pratt & Whitney, delivered the keynote speech at the SWE Region F Conference in Springfield, Mass., on April 5. In her remarks, Cannon encouraged young engineers to focus on training, technical certifications and varied assignments to help manage their careers in the long term. Knowing the business, Cannon added, is essential for those whose professional aspirations include a leadership role.
"Today, you need to understand not just the technical aspects of the product, but also the competitive advantages and the business case for bringing it to market," Cannon said. "Cultivating leadership skills and business acumen, coupled with an engineering background, can lead to a rewarding career."
"The Society of Women Engineers strives to develop organizational and leadership skills and encourages technical and professional excellence supporting all women in all stages of their education and careers," said Andrea Karalus, a mechanical discipline chief at Pratt & Whitney and the SWE Region F governor, who attended the event. "This particular conference provided the opportunity for attendees to listen to successful female engineers, such as Mary Anne, along with other role models providing knowledge on career guidance, professional development and innovative advances. It was an inspiring and energizing weekend!"
Several members of the Pratt & Whitney Executive Committee have an engineering education, Cannon noted. "At Pratt & Whitney, I realized, engineering has become a base to launch other disciplines such as global supply chain, quality, technical career, etc., because it grounds you in our technical product."
The role of the engineer has changed, Cannon explained, and the workforce now needs more engineers who can solve and "avert" problems. Cannon urged the audience to develop time and project-management skills and to seek out mentors who can provide career guidance.
"Mentors are vital not just for their technical experience, but for helping to identify, plan for and navigate the specific paths available to you as you build your careers," she said.
It was less common for women to pursue technical careers when Cannon entered the field, and she said her SWE membership was "instrumental" in her early years as an engineer. Things have changed, Cannon observed, as more women pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
"Women are increasingly drawn to technical fields and we are succeeding in a broad range of roles, including leadership," she said. "At every level, women engineers now have a unique role and voice in the industry."