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The gift of confidence

A top Raytheon exec and her engineer daughter: Two generations of wisdom

One engineer to another: Rebecca Rhoads, president of Raytheon Global Business Services, with her daughter Julianne, an engineer at Siemens.

 It's what great moms do.

When she became an engineering student, Julianne Rhoads remembers, her college orientation was a sea of men. She felt terribly out of place.

But her mother Rebecca, who has spent her career in the male-dominated engineering profession, was with her. Mother whispered to daughter, "You belong here."

That simple message sparked a surge of confidence with lasting effect. Julianne, 30, is now an engineer at Siemens, enjoying a career that must make her mother proud.

In April, Julianne and Rebecca, president of Raytheon's Global Business Services division, appeared at Wheaton College’s Summit on Women in STEM in Norton, Massachusetts. They shared their personal career experiences and offered advice to students, some destined to join the next generation of women in technical fields.

Through her career, Julianne has leaned on her mother's gift of confidence to boost her belief in her work and herself. She recalled one instance early on, when she had trouble drilling a hole in a boiler room flue stack to test the air inside. Her client questioned whether she knew how to do her job, a criticism she took personally.

 “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t belong here. I don’t belong in this field,’" she told the students.

Recalling her mother's encouragement, she refused to give up. Instead, she worked the problem, figuring out how to get the drill through the metal on her own.

“At that moment, I became the energy engineer that I was,” she said.

Her mother said that example, when Julianne found a solution instead of giving up and asking for a rescue, exemplified a key lesson.

"Sometimes, as women, when things get rough or tough, one of the first things we do is start to doubt ourselves,” said Rebecca. “The people who put you in that job had confidence in you. Rely on that confidence.”

The trick is to rely on your own resources instead of seeking the quick and easy way out: “You don’t want to be the damsel in distress,” said Rebecca. “If you get rescued, there could be some doubt you can handle a job that complex. If you collaborate or show that you’ve made an effort, now you’re asking for help, not getting rescued.”

Building your confidence is akin to training your body to perform better, she added.

“In our professional lives, when our muscles get sore, we start to wonder if we were right for the job,” she said. “Just remember, those sore muscles are helping you get really buff for that next promotion or opportunity.”

Run toward the difficult assignments, Rebecca advised. Take on the tough challenges.

"That is how you enrich your network, and that network will tap you on the shoulder," she said. "People will learn they can count on you, and they will.”

Also critically important: To be a lifelong learner. That's how to navigate a field like engineering, which is constantly evolving. 

“I challenge you to try something new,” Julianne said. “You have to get over that hump of not being good at something from the very beginning.” 

Published: 04/12/2017

Last Updated: 04/13/2017

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