Name: Sheila M Schermerhorn
Title: South Central Regional Manager
Company: Renishaw Inc.
Degrees: AAS in Mechanical Engineering, Alfred State College
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?
Renishaw is a fantastic company to work with and for. Our company does not limit any person from achieving success in any role. We have many females in engineering roles in our UK facility. I am very privileged to represent the engineered and innovative Renishaw products in the manufacturing sector.
I began my career with Renishaw in November of 2000 as a Regional Sales Manager and retain that same title today although in a different region. I have supported three different regions in this capacity as a Sales Manager and although I do not currently have an Engineering title, my education and manufacturing background provide the skills and strengths to promote and support my role more as a technical sales person with confidence to demonstrate the capability of our industrial metrology solutions in any customers manufacturing process. Prior to joining Renishaw, I worked in positions predominantly held by men as an applications engineer, manufacturing engineer, manual machinist, NC machinist, CNC machinist, CNC Programmer, Advanced Industrial Engineer, product manager as well as mechanical and electrical designer all of which I am extremely grateful for the experience as well as the knowledge gained along the way.
What first drew you to engineering? / When did you first know you wanted to be an engineer?
I knew at a young age prior to entering high school that I wanted to be in the engineering field because of the vison of having freedom of creativity, as well as wanting and always seeking a challenge along with having a mechanical aptitude.
Were there any influential engineers (women or men) who helped shaped your decision to become an engineer? If so, who and why?
I guess I would say the decision was hereditary, I followed the footsteps of my grandfather who worked as a tool & die engineer and was always tinkering in his home shop in either wood or metal which I found fascinating. My grandfather showed great interest in my studies during college and often stated he wished he were 50 years younger so that he could attend college along with me to share the experience and was very encouraging as I embarked on my journey.
What barriers do women face in today’s engineering world, if any?
Women really have no true barriers to becoming an engineer or working in any field if they do not permit others or themselves to set limits on them. I feel we are all offered the same opportunity to advance if we share the desire and motivation to excel.
Describe your biggest engineering challenge. How did you conquer it or resolve it, or what was the outcome?
The biggest challenge early in my career choice or path was proving to others not myself that I was more than capable of working in any engineering role.
I recall a woman working as a human resource manager telling me that I could not apply for every engineering position that became available on the company posting board where I was employed as a CNC machinist because she felt I was not qualified.
My response to her comment was “How do YOU know that I am not qualified for the position unless I am allowed or permitted to apply myself toward the role?”
She presented my application to the Manger of the Mechanical Design department for a “courtesy interview” for the position and told me not to have any expectations. I interviewed for the open posted position and was given the job where I worked in the role of a Mechanical Design Engineer for 5 years for that company. I accepted any challenges and never seen anything an obstacle that could not be overcome and was extremely driven to succeed not matter what was presented.
Talk about your leadership skills. What lessons have you learned?
Leadership skill require willingness to listen and work together to accomplish the goals. There is always more than one way to do something and if you are open and willing to listen you also learn something valuable along the way. Leadership means sharing what you have learned as well as encouraging others in creativity and willingness to step out of the comfort zone to think outside the proverbial box.
In your opinion, what more can be done to promote greater participation of young women in engineering today?
Promoting the range of opportunities available with an engineering degree prior to any collegiate testing and/or enrollment timeframe to build the desire and excitement. An engineering degree in any discipline is just a beginning to open so many doors to endless possibilities and options available.
Encouragement for higher enrollment can be demonstrated with more published female placement at time of recruitment. Publication of starting salaries for engineering positions regardless of gender to eliminate the instilled fear that women are not compensated the same as a man with identical credentials seeking the same position. Students today have such awesome opportunities to expand their course of study and classroom knowledge beyond theoretical text book training and are afforded the chance of more hands-on experiences with commercial partners investing in the advanced educational systems and the utilization of internships that were not as common decades ago.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Going to college to get a mechanical engineering degree is just a great beginning to endless opportunities so never permit your focus to remain narrow on a single career path or allow others to set any limits upon you. Opportunity is always knocking and the decision to open the door is always yours!
I am blessed with the career choices and decisions that I have made along the way have provided me with such an awesome opportunity in an exciting industry!
[A condensed version of this sponsored profile appears in the November “Women in Engineering” issue of Design World.]