Spotlight on Women in Mechanical Integrity: Kimberley Hayes

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Posted on August 08

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Scare Yourself

Kimberley Hayes has been heavily involved in the nondestructive testing industry for the past 25 years. She recently founded Valkim Technologies, which executes contract work for start-up robotic inspection companies and cultivates strategic initiatives supporting market research and new product development.

We sat down with Kim to get her unique perspective on women in mechanical integrity.

Kim just got in from taking the red eye home to San Antonio. She needs a shower and a nap, but before she does that, she is going to give us her take on women in mechanical engineering. Because Kim gets it done, whatever “it” happens to be.

Looking at the landscape of the industrial inspection world created by Covid, she noticed a few things: the pandemic had upset the balance of the industry (and pretty much all industries), companies were getting increasingly concerned about carbon footprints and costs, veterans are retiring without a backfill of younger workers and corporations tend to reluctantly embrace new innovations.

The safe thing to do would be to burrow deeper into the corporate structure, where her wealth of experience would make her invaluable. Instead, she blazed ahead and started her own company—removing the “golden handcuffs” and starting to “stir up as much stuff as I can.”

Kim has no patience with stubbornness. She bemoans that 85% of radiographs in the North American O&G market are still done with old-school film in an era where digital photography is faster, cheaper and better in our everyday lives. Why does this practice remain? For the same reason there aren’t more women in mechanical engineering: resistance to change. The Good Old Boy network, however, is starting to lose its grip in America. She points to Europe, where women engineers are so integrated into the practice that gender is almost an afterthought, and says that should be the end goal in the US. But, as Kim points out, we can’t get to this level of equality without addressing the issues head-on first.

“We have to show younger women this is a cool industry,” she says. There are lots of opportunities to promote women in industrial inspection; the lack of women is now being discussed, at least, but the robotics field is still 93% men and NDT is still 96% men.

Kim is not interested in diversity for diversity’s sake: she craves real change, and to do so, she says, women should support and encourage other women. In this, Kim leads by example, working with ASNT Women Council and API’s Women in Mechanical Integrity and other organizations to show young women that it’s not a boy’s club anymore. Her success demonstrates that women are an important part of the industry, and outdated views on gender roles are slowly fading away. Or as she put it, “Change is a requirement, not a luxury.”

In the interest of inspiring the next generation of engineers, Kim offers lots of advice for women entering the field: don’t be afraid to interject your value. Don’t let your good idea fall prey to short-term thinking. Sometimes, you must champion a cause for a while until its value becomes apparent to habit-bound thinkers. She also is a big fan of the Japanese concept of genchi genbutsu, which means to “go see for yourself.” If you want to know how (or why) something is done the way it is, get out and get some first-hand experience. Sometimes the common wisdom is right for a reason–and sometimes it’s not.

Kim sees no limit for women in engineering roles: the US is going to need 400,000 welders by 2024, and there is no reason they can’t be women. Get practical experience to match what you learn. 40% of any task is muscle memory, so get those muscles to work!

When thinking about how women find success in the technical world, she is quick to point out that this is not a case of women behaving like men to be taken seriously: You don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room in order to stand out. However, some men will continue to underestimate women in a STEM field, which, as she points out, often serves to make women work that much harder to become that much sharper than their counterparts. She also points out that when two men discuss something, there’s a certain amount of posturing that happens, which is thankfully avoided with women. The ability women have to learn to build consensus and synthesize information is also very valuable and will help women in engineering until they no longer need to prove themselves–when the topic of gender won’t even need to be discussed.

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