Overcoming "impostor syndrome," and other advice from women in engineering

How our Society of Women Engineers award recipients made their way

Jacquelynn Garofano used to suffer from impostor syndrome.

You wouldn’t know it today – she speaks with the poise and confidence you’d expect from someone with her credentials – but it wasn’t always that way. Early in her career, she felt overloaded, overwhelmed and filled with self-doubt. At one point she found herself on her mother’s couch and in the midst of an anxiety attack. It was both a low point and a lesson in disguise.

“‘No’ is a full sentence. I had to learn that because I was taking on so much,” Garofano said.

In the years since, she has found her voice and her power – she holds a Ph.D., leads a career development program for engineers and is a self-styled “STEMinist” – and she mentors others to help them do the same.  

Garofano is among four Raytheon Technologies engineers being honored at the 2020 Society of Women Engineers awards for their contributions to the field. The organization, a nonprofit that advocates for women in engineering and technology, is also honoring 37 women across Raytheon Technologies’ four businesses with a Patent Recognition Award, presented to members who were awarded a patent within the previous 10 years.

Here, the four major award winners share their advice for aspiring leaders. 

Build a community

Garofano was the first in her family to go to college. Her physics professor, Christine Broadbridge, inspired her to pursue a doctorate in materials science and engineering.

“She was leading a materials research lab. I had no idea what that was. I didn’t know what I was walking into,” said Garofano. “I had the access and opportunity and just the gumption, I think, even 20 years ago, to say ‘What do you do? How can I get involved?’”

"Find people of like mind and like energy, and surround yourself with those people."

- Jacquelynn Garofano

Since then, Garofano has found joy and success through seeking out connections within Raytheon Technologies as well as outside the company: allies, advisers, peers, people she’s mentored. That has led her to the best job she’s ever had – leading the Margaret Ingels Engineering Development Program at Raytheon Technologies, where she cultivates the next generation of engineers.

“I want to be for someone what Christine was for me,” Garofano said.  

Garofano, who was honored with a Spark Award from SWE for contributing to the advancement of women by mentoring, encourages young women to build a community of their own.

“Find people of like mind and like energy, and surround yourself with those people,” she said. 

See the power in diversity 

When Angel McMullen-Gunn has a tough problem to solve, she looks at the skill sets of the team available, then considers who she can bring on to maximize their strengths.

McMullen-Gunn, the associate director of quality process excellence and talent for Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies business, said leading a successful team requires understanding how to make the best use of your team members’ strengths — not by expecting everyone to be able to do everything.

“I say this probably 10 times a day: You cannot expect a fish to climb a tree,” said McMullen-Gunn, “And then we’ll get to a point in a project, and I’ll say, ‘Okay we swam this far, now let’s get the birds.’” 

"I say this probably 10 times a day: You cannot expect a fish to climb a tree."

- Angel McMullen-Gunn

Getting to the heart of an issue often requires bringing in someone from the outside. When something doesn’t turn out as expected, McMullen-Gunn’s whole team gets together for a process review to figure out what happened. They also bring in a “non-advocate” to get an entirely different perspective. 

“If it’s a mechanical issue, we’ll bring in an electrical engineer,” she said.

The idea is to bring in someone who is not expert in the field and doesn’t understand the ins and outs of the project.

"They come in and turn the problem upside down," McMullen-Gunn said.

For McMullen-Gunn, that is the day-to-day value diversity brings to innovation. 

SWE presented McMullen-Gunn with a Global Leadership Award. That award honors someone who has worked in and led an international business in engineering, science technology and in doing so, has served as a role model to women engineers and technologists worldwide.

Follow your curiosity 

Diane Foley has built her career on getting caught up in what interests her.

Foley, the senior director of digital technology program execution for Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, learned early in her career how to use her natural curiosity as her greatest strength when her team’s primary customer wanted them to use statistics to monitor and improve their processes.

"I thrive when there is a blank canvas and a need for something."

- Diane Foley

A self-proclaimed “statistics geek,” Foley researched the best way to meet the customer’s request, which led her to the process-improvement exercise known as Six Sigma.

“I dug deep. I took learning home,” said Foley, now a Six Sigma Black Belt.

She quickly became known across the company and with customers as a statistics and process expert.

"I thrive when there is a blank canvas and a need for something," Foley said.

Her drive to learn has continued to propel her forward, leading to her current role, where she is responsible for IT program execution across a $15 billion program portfolio.

Foley received SWE’s Advocating Women in Engineering Award for translating corporate strategy into actionable plans that drive business results, championing diversity and inclusion, and implementing programs that address systemic bias.

Go extracurricular 

Mary-Helen Douglas remembers her colleague’s advice clearly.

"'She said, 'If you're ready to take that next step to becoming a leader, and you're not getting those opportunities at work, go external,'" Douglas recalled. 

So in 2004, when the National President of Kappa Delta Sorority offered Douglas a volunteer position advising four collegiate chapters, she embraced the opportunity to share her passion with other women considering careers in engineering. She gained experience mentoring, building teams and strategic planning during her 13 years on the sorority’s leadership team.

“I realized early in my career that in order to change the perception of engineering as a field for women, I needed to become the role model I didn’t have growing up,” she said.  

Douglas now serves as the AMRAAM® platform integration program manager for Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a business of Raytheon Technologies, overseeing more than 25 domestic and international integration contracts.

SWE gave Douglas a Spark Award, honoring someone who has contributed to the advancement of women by mentoring those around them.

Raytheon Technologies is a sponsor of WE20, the organization’s annual conference, which they’re hosting virtually this year from Nov. 2–13.  

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