After my engineering studies, I had the opportunity to specialize with a PhD in the subject of non-linear dynamics, a topic close to the working field of LMS. LMS was a spin-off company from the University of Leuven, and the department I had studied in. It was a very logical step to take.
What was your first job?
My first job inside the company was Research Engineer. In early jobs, I worked on software applications, like the field of dynamic testing of aircraft structures. Later on, I got involved in setting up and driving of international research projects, funded through the European Community. At that time, next to technical skills, I developed project/budget management and international communication skills.
Were you the only woman on the team? What was that like?
Yes. At that time and size of the company (around 200 people worldwide), I believe I was the only woman involved in any technical job.
How has your career evolved over the years?
I had the opportunity to grow with the company. I evolved from the research activities into several product management roles, which brought me more and more in contact with the customers and the sales organization. That was a good step up towards the role I am currently having as director of industry solutions where I work at the crossroad of customer, sales and marketing organizations and product teams.
Who has helped you along the way?
I have been very lucky to have good coaches inside the company, who have allowed me to grow, not only in my job function and reach/responsibility, but also by giving me the opportunity to learn from them on the way, by getting involved in commercial, strategy/partnering discussions, messaging, customer situations… learning on the job.
Do you think being a woman helped or hurt your career?
No, I don’t really think so. Yet during my career, I have always counted on my knowledge and thorough preparation of files. But, having said that, at times, coming into meetings as a woman in a male dominant environment, one can change the atmosphere and tone of conversation and that can create another level of communication and openness.
What type of advantages does your country offer compared to other countries? Has this been an advantage?
Concerning working as a woman with young children, Belgium had already at that time a well developed child care system – in comparison with other European countries. I also believe that the current systems that exist in Belgium nowadays help young families even much more in getting through the tough years to combine working with taking care of young children.
Have you seen things change in the world of engineering in regards to gender equality?
In general, in technical and engineering jobs, the percentage of woman is not dramatically increasing. Yet I believe there is a lot of misconception of what engineering jobs can be so that young woman don’t easily take choices in that direction. Therefore I do sometimes talk at student events about woman in technical careers to help overcome some of these thinking paradigms.
What type of advice would you give young women looking to enter engineering?
Don’t be afraid!
What still should be done to make the world of engineering more gender equal?
I am not sure if gender equal is what is required.
I do believe in the right persons/qualities on the right place. I do also believe that certain qualities – whether professional expertise or communication skills or organizational skills …- come with personalities and not with gender.
How much of a role does culture play in gender equality?
Culture plays I am sure a big role in general regarding having woman professionally engaged.
Yet, looking at the low statistics of woman in engineering jobs as we see it in Belgium, I am not sure if it is so different over the rest of the world. I have met (always a few) woman engineers in many different countries at many different customers – from Italy and Scandinavia to Japan and China. We are simply still very few and always a big minority.
Do you honestly think gender equality is possible?
Let us all strive to keep our own identities! I can only encourage woman to believe in themselves and their own specific qualities, and to use and demonstrate these qualities to the advantage of the company and organization.