Monday, March 19, 2012

Women in Science and Engineering Blog Series: Part Three, Shawn Bowen

In recognition of Women's History Month, Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) presents a special blog series featuring candid responses from female ECBC employees and leaders on their experiences as females in the science and engineering fields. The third blog in this series features Shawn Bowen, of ECBC's Decision Analysis Team. 

Have I faced challenges in a field that is historically underrepresented by women?  Absolutely!  For example, my team offers meeting facilitation, which involves helping groups understand and accomplish their objectives and takes years of training and practice to master.  Several years ago, a customer asked if I could facilitate his meeting.  After clarifying, it became apparent that he wanted someone to set up refreshments.  I don’t know if his request was a subconscious response to me being a woman (who have historically filled the role of refreshment organizers), or if he just made a mistake.  However, experiences like these make it difficult for young employees-- especially women--to overcome anxiety and intimidation often felt because they are not yet established. This can make it hard for women and young employees to build confidence in themselves in the workplace.

People tell me that more women are advancing in science and engineering fields in the Department of Defense (DoD).  I suppose that’s true because there are more women in leadership positions than previously, but I think we still have a long way to go.  For some meetings, I am the only woman in the room.  Why is this, and why do I receive double-takes from people who were expecting the person running the meeting to be a man?  I believe that the workplace will see more women on projects that have previously been dominated by men because more women are being hired in science and engineering.  However, I also believe that I will be much older before I stop being the only woman in the room.  

My experiences as a woman in the DoD have made me a stronger, more confident person.  The job I have, which we fondly refer to as “herding cats” at times, requires me to be assertive and sharp in front of groups, whether they include both men and women or not.  I find that because my meetings are male-dominated, I’ve recognized the importance of overcoming my shyness and naturally timid nature.  When running meetings, my mantra is to do what it takes to get the job done and worry about how uncomfortable I am later (if there’s time, which there usually isn’t!).  Instead of viewing my shyness as part of myself, I view it as a challenge that I can overcome.  My advice to other young women, who work in a male-dominated field or organization, is to not be intimidated and use their experiences instead to become better people.

Ms. Shawn Bowen works on the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center’s Decision Analysis Team in the Directorate of Program Integration.  She has been with the team for six years, and has a background in chemistry, mathematics, and engineering management. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, Department of the Army, Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

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