Edith S. Hayes is the plant manager at PPG’s Mojave aerospace facility in California. A chemist by trade, Edith has worked in the paint industry for 32 years. In this interview, we learn from Edith how keeping true to ourselves can help us achieve success.
How did you first become interested in manufacturing?
Chemists are usually thought of as researchers. But, I learned early on that I thrive in fast-paced, action oriented environments, so long-term research was definitely not the path I saw myself continuing along.
I realized that there were endless opportunities within manufacturing and that I was only limited by my own personal mindset. At one point in time, there were certain stereotypes the governed who should pursue a career in STEM. However, what truly sets people apart is their drive to succeed and the results they obtain. Results are gender neutral. Creativity is gender neutral. Ingenuity is gender neutral. What defines us as innovators and thought leaders in a particular space no longer falls within a specific gender or stereotype.
Why do you think there are fewer women than men in STEM fields?
In years past, barriers to entry were truly based on gender. While we don’t face those same barriers today, I believe that there is a lack of awareness around the opportunities available for young women who choose to pursue a career in STEM.
As female leaders in field, it’s our due diligence to take the initiative to bring STEM programs into our local schools to foster the interest of young girls during those formidable years.
What challenges have you personally faced in the course of your career, particularly within in male-dominated spaces?
I had to learn that it’s OK to be different – and that’s a really big deal! In life, depending on your personality, you may want to assimilate. For me, as an African American female, I soon realized that I had to look beyond what made me different and instead focus on who I am and what I have to offer.
What I found out; I really like who I am, and that became an asset instead of a liability.
What do you see as the current opportunities and challenges for women in manufacturing?
The first challenge would be work/life balance. I think many women feel the need to work more hours to be seen as an equal or accepted in a predominately-male environment. This becomes increasingly more challenging if you have a family or are thinking about starting a family. As I mentioned in a previous answer, females should not have to choose between a specific set of titles. Our approach to work/life balance has to change and reflect this viewpoint in order to expand our opportunities within manufacturing.
The second challenge is equal pay. Although some progress has been made, statistics show that women are still not compensated at the same rate as their male counterparts.
How has your career path influenced your role as a mother?
It is incredibly rewarding being a wife and mother. As a mother, you truly have no idea how much you impact your children and the decisions they make. My daughter is a sophomore in college pursuing a career in the STEM field. People say that she’s just like her mother – well I say, she will be 100 times better! You never know the impact you’ll have on another person, whether it be someone you work with or your own daughter. After all these years, she’s been watching me. While I let her choose her own path, my career decisions are making an impact on her future.
What advice do you have for women interested in pursuing STEM careers?
Go for it! You owe it to not only yourself, but to the next generation of strong female leaders. Pursuing a career in STEM will help to open doors and breakdown barriers for those who come after us. If there is any indication that a career in STEM is right path for you, you should act on it.