Alumna with challenging job finds time to mentor teen girls

Lynn Braunschweig

Lynn Braunschweig is a project manager at maxon motor Aerospace Unit. She earned a BE degree in mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt in 2004, a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering and a MBA at Washington University in St. Louis. Braunschweig was interviewed by Paul Heney of Design World.

Talk about the culture at your company. What makes it inclusive or supportive of women? What do you enjoy about working there as an engineer?

maxon motor Group is a family owned company that employs 2,500 people worldwide with 1,200 of them being in Switzerland at their headquarters. Our mission states that “we form a team of individuals and personalities who combine their interests and qualities to achieve common success. We treat each other with respect and actively seek to create a trusting work environment.” There are people from various cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities working at maxon. maxon builds actuator systems ranging from 6 to 90mm. Due to the small size of the hardware, there is a high percentage of women in production who work both part-time and full-time to accommodate their family obligations. Furthermore, maxon has a small daycare facility on-site for employees. Unfortunately, the number of women in engineering and higher-level management positions is still on the lower end, but I enjoy the challenge of proving to everyone around me that women are just as capable as men in this field. Furthermore, being able to work on “cool” projects such as motors going on the next NASA Mars Rover is a great motivator.

What first drew you to engineering? / When did you first know you wanted to be an engineer?

My mother is an emancipated woman, a math teacher and good at fixing things around the house. When I was young, I always aspired to be like her. She introduced me to the world of technology and always encouraged my siblings and me to pursue our dreams, whatever they may be. I did enjoy playing with Barbies and Legos, but 3D puzzles were my passion. In high school, I completed a career assessment which suggested I either become a lawyer or an engineer. As I didn’t want to argue in court every day (at the time I thought that’s what lawyers did), I decided to study mechanical engineering.

Were there any influential engineers (women or men) who helped shaped your decision to become an engineer? If so, who and why?

See answer above… my mother.

What barriers do women face in today’s engineering world, if any?

The first barrier is that girls aren’t exposed to engineering related classes. I know that some schools in the US have started these type of classes, however in Switzerland they are still lacking. Schools offer the science and math classes but there are not many interactive, basic engineering classes where one learns how to build projects, solve problems and learn how things fundamentally work. So most girls grow up thinking that you need to be good at math to become an engineer, which is not true. A basic knowledge of how things work is far more important in a person’s education.

Secondly, once women enter the work force, they face two obstacles: 1. their age and 2. their gender. As a young female engineer at my first job out of college, I had to prove my worth because it was my first job, but I also had to overcome the prejudice of being a woman. I enjoyed the challenge and thrived, but because of this I can see how it is hard for some women to prove themselves in such a demanding environment.

Finally, by nature, women give birth and are usually the primary care taker of their children. If companies would offer appropriate maternity (and paternity) leave of several months along with the possibility to work part-time for the first several years of a child’s life, then I think more women who studied engineering would also work as engineers after becoming mothers. Of course, not only companies but also the government needs to do their part by offering affordable daycare options.

Describe your biggest engineering challenge. How did you conquer it or resolve it, or what was the outcome?

A few times I felt that as a woman, I wasn’t taken as seriously as a male employee with similar experience and training. However, I didn’t perceive that as a negative thing. On the contrary, it motivated me to work even harder and prove myself and my fellow colleagues that I was qualified for my position. For instance, the head of production at one company with whom I worked closely with to develop the assembly concept for a new aircraft told me one day that he always thought women needlessly complained about not being treated as men. Once he got to know me better and saw how much I was educated in the field, and how men at the company reacted to me, he understood the inequality between men and women. If a man had my job with my experience, he would have been accepted as an expert, however I had to prove myself repeatedly.

Talk about your leadership skills. What lessons have you learned?

I’m a project manager in the aerospace division and currently in charge of brushless flat motors that will fly to Mars on the next NASA Mars Rover. In my role, I work closely with various departments at maxon from production, quality to purchasing and many more. The hardest part of leading this project is that these people work on my project, but do not work for me. Talking to people, being responsive to their needs and concerns while keeping the customer’s requirements all under “one hat” is the largest skill I have learned over the past few years.

Have you worked with younger engineers as a mentor, to help them in their career? Or describe any involvement in any STEM or STEAM programs for young people.

SATW (Schweizerische Akademie der Technischen Wissenschaften = Swiss Academy of Technical Sciences) has launched a program called Swiss TecLadies which is a one year mentoring program geared to help young women ages 13 to 17 discover their talents and foster their interest in a technical and/or Engineering job. The program’s inaugural year is 2018/2019 and is being conducted in the German speaking part of Switzerland. I was asked to be a mentor in this program. The program had its kick-off day in September and I look forward to not only teaching my mentee a lot of things but also learning a lot from her. This is the first time I am participating in such a program, so it is both exhilarating and nerve-racking at the same time as I am worried that I will not do justice to my mentee.

In your opinion, what more can be done to promote greater participation of young women in engineering today?

Teachers could contribute more, but at the same time all parents with daughters could be involved in their daughter’s education. For example, they should involve them when doing maintenance on a motorbike or fixing something during their free time. Companies, on the other hand, have the responsibility to create modern structures with flexible hours, home office options, and part-time jobs.

What career advice would you give to your younger self?

I can only recommend choosing a career in technology. Take a risk! I’m also convinced that the next generation of women will find it easier to combine their career and family life.

Reposted with permission of Design World.