Spotlight on Women in Mechanical Integrity: Leslie Ward

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Posted on August 04

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We’ve got to get the engineering degrees to 50/50

Leslie Ward is as accomplished as they come, with 29 years experience in the O&G sector, plus 3 years in pulp and paper. She began her career at the original Texaco refinery in Port Arthur, Texas and now works for Enbridge as the Specialist Facility Integrity Engineer – Special Projects and Initiatives.

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

When Leslie started out in O&G—let’s just say times were different. It was not unusual for her to be treated as an admin—not that there’s anything wrong with being an admin, she’s quick to point out, it’s just that she’s not an admin—she’s an engineer. Some of this she attributes to the times, but not in the usual way: most of her co-workers were ex-military, and they naturally drifted to a hierarchy—just one that was not inclusive of women.

She also dealt with inappropriate comments, which when reported led to exactly no action on the part of management. However, it does reveal that even as a new engineer, Leslie was unafraid to call them like she sees them. In fact, she is self-diagnosed with a “potty mouth” which caused her trouble as well despite her male counterparts engaging in similar behavior. It appears it was very much a “don’t dish it out but please take it in” situation.

These days, Leslie stands as both an expert in her field and a champion of women in engineering. She’s quick to recruit any woman of ability she finds to her department, but also quick to point out that career paths for women are as varied as women themselves. Her own thinking is both strategic and tactical; she is detailed and structured, and her habit of fostering discussion and asking questions is more a Leslie thing than anything based on her gender.

Leslie believes that the key to getting more women into engineering starts nearly at birth. Her own father was a key influence in her career because he took the time to explain mechanical things to her, demystifying them. Leslie recommends teaching kids basic, around-the-house engineering regardless of their gender: righty-tighty/lefty-loosey type stuff, and how to check oil or screw in a lightbulb. Schooling is important, and STEM should be available to all children if that’s where their interests lie.

Considering the percentage of women in engineering, Leslie points out that 25% of the engineering degrees right now are earned by women, and that is a good baseline for companies to start with. She recommends that companies work with college engineering programs or other professional organizations that help support female students to locate women engineers and ensure percentages are at that level or above in their workforce. Of course, many companies only track gender diversity in the company as a whole, and not by role, which is another hindrance to a truly diverse working environment.

Ultimately, Leslie points out, there are slightly more women than men in the world, and so the engineering degrees should be about 50/50 men and women. “Until you get the engineering degrees to 50/50, you’re not going to get anything (i.e. women in mechanical integrity) below them up to a 50/50 ratio.”

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