2016 Honoree

Elizabeth Bierman

Principal Project Engineer, Honeywell Aerospace

“I have spent a lot of time informing young people what engineers really do and also that we need to change the conversation from: ‘how smart are you in math and science,’ to ‘how do you want to make a difference in the world?'”

What socio-political women’s issue do you care about the most?

Increasing the number of women in the STEM fields. Unfortunately, the numbers have not changed in the last few decades for women going into engineering, and I am surprised by that. But, I have also learned that many young people do not know what engineers do. I have spent a lot of time informing young people what engineers really do, and also that we need to change the conversation from: “how smart are you in math and science,” to “how do you want to make a difference in the world?” Engineers touch everything, and if you are passionate about something there is a field of engineering around it.

Do you feel that women are typically presented fairly in the media? Why or why not?

Yes, there are plenty of examples of strong, talented women creating success on their own terms.

What specific aspect of women’s rights in the US could we change to set an example to the world?

Implement more family friendly policies, such as paternity leave in addition to maternity leave. In corporate America today it’s not just the mother that wants to spend more time with their family, fathers want to be involved as well. We need family friendly policies that everyone can benefit from. With that said, flexible schedules are becoming more popular. With the global economy and people going 24/7, the most successful companies will be the ones that allow their employees the flexibility to get their jobs done while maintaining a sense of integration with their home life. One reason why I like working at Honeywell so much is I do feel like we do a good job of helping people maintain work-life balance while also having a performance driven culture.

What will it take (apart from time) for women to be viewed as equal to men?

When we can overcome unconscious biases that lead to results that often are not ones that are intended.

Whatever profession you choose, do men see women as either a female rival with independence and strength, or someone inexperienced that needs to be managed, never as an equal?

In my industry, I am viewed as an equal who is independent, strong, creative, and competent.

How do you show your male colleagues that you are an equal without stepping on their toes?

I show that I have the competence and value the business objectives that we all share. I am an engineer, just like my male colleagues. I do bring a different perspective, but that is valued because we are creating the best products for our customers.

Do you feel the extreme left and right wings of U.S. politics are destroying the United in United States, or is it just healthy debate?

A healthy debate is good for democracy.

What do you now know about yourself that you wish you knew ten/fifteen/twenty years ago?

I know that I am a role model who gives visibility not only to women in engineering, but also to our entire community in order to let people know how great it is to be an engineer.

Do today’s young people face a bigger challenge than you did?

Young people definitely have a more global outlook than I did 10-20 years ago, which is critically important in this ever changing, increasingly connected world. The world’s problems are not going to be solved by the United States, or one nation working alone. We all will need to come together to solve issues like access to clean water, engineer better medicines, and restore and improve urban infrastructure.

Can you tell us about one of the biggest challenges in your life that you think helped you become the person you are today?

One of the biggest challenges in my life was probably my first year of college. It was definitely harder than I expected and I constantly questioned whether I was smart enough to be an engineer. I really struggled with whether I made the right choice to be an aerospace engineer. But, I told myself to stick with it. I learned that it’s not about how smart you are, but how hard you are willing to work.

What was your best decision to date?

Going to Iowa State was the best decision. It opened the world of engineering to me and I met my husband. Both my career and family are pretty amazing now.

Worst decision?

I put off getting my pilot’s license–I think I would have enjoyed that. Hopefully, I still pursue this someday. And, I never applied to NASA to become an astronaut. That is something I said I would do and never did.

Who inspires you the most?

My Society of Women Engineers’ network is my greatest source of inspiration, strength, and knowledge. As you get older, you realize how much your network supports you, so I try to surround myself with people who make me want to be better.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Mary Barra. I have heard her speak and she is a very influential leader.

If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?

To speak any language. I love to travel, so being able to speak to another in their native tongue would be impressive and impactful, to really hear that they are talking about.

Favorite: Book/writer?

Half the Sky / Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, an American business executive, writer, lecturer, and Pulitzer Prize winner.

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