Diversity is important in every field, but this can especially be true in STEM. Having a diverse team allows for a wider exchange of thought, ideas and ways to problem-solve inspired by a variety of different life experiences and trains of thought.
But even with the progress that has been made to include more women and people of color in STEM, they are still vastly underrepresented, especially in the engineering field. In the most recent survey done by the Society of Women Engineers, women represented only 34 percent of all STEM workers and only 14 percent of all engineering occupations.
These numbers were even lower for women of color in the field.
Getting more women — particularly diverse women — in engineering is incredibly important, but don’t just take our word for it. Diversity in STEAM Magazine sat down with the 2022 Society of Women Engineers Emerging Leader and the 2022 Black Engineer of the Year, Kia Smith, to talk about her journey in engineering and why it’s important for voices like hers to be included this field:
Diversity in STEAM Magazine (DISM): When did you know that you wanted to become an engineer and why?
Kia Smith (KS): I knew once I sat down and reviewed all the possibilities of majors that I could have for college at 15 years old. I sat down with my dad and we reviewed my top three. We ranked them on how much school I had to take versus how much money I could make. Needless to say, with my love for math and science and data from the assessment, all signs pointed to STEM!
DISM: What types of challenges have you faced as a woman of color in the engineering field?
KS: I have had managers that made each day hard, people at work that acted like supporters who really used my kindness for weakness and friends (or people that I thought were my friends) turn on me for getting a career. While all hard, I realized everything is temporary and nothing is forever so I need to make decisions for me that will lead to my happiness no matter what.
DISM: Tell us a bit more about your role at Boeing and what you enjoy most about it?
KS: I am a Regional Supplier Quality Manager in the California Region for Boeing Space, Defense and Security. I lead 15 people and close to 200 Supplier’s product verifications in the Southern California area and internationally. What I enjoy most is the training and development of team members. My team is great and I love to see them happy and growing.
DISM: What does it mean to you to be recognized by the Society of Women Engineers, BEYA and so many more?
KS: It means the world. I wish my parents were alive to see it. For years I thought my efforts were not noticed or appreciated, which I was told many times does not matter if you are getting paid. This is far from the truth. Recognition is definitely aligned with my words of affirmation love language, so you can imagine the level of gratefulness and excitement that I am on this year.
DISM: Why do you believe women are integral in engineering?
KS: Our ability to think and reactive differently has always been misunderstood but today it is celebrated more than ever. Our ability to multitask and bring a different flavor to the table makes our teams that much more amazing. I believe this makes US integral in engineering, which is a function embedded in all that we do each day — whether it is Wi-Fi from satellites that I have personally worked on, cell phones, ordering an Uber or Amazon delivery or riding on an airplane. Safety, quality and efficiency are all minimal expectations in the world we live in and it takes diversity on engineering teams for this to happen.
DISM: What advice would you give another woman of color who wants to pursue a career in engineering?
KS: Go for it and let nothing get in your way! You are worthy, you are good enough and you will make a difference in this world! Never tell yourself no… let other people say it and then go around them and make it happen!
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kia Smith