“Be someone who other women can look up to, and be approachable to those women, including those in engineering roles.”
That’s the advice of Katie Ekstrand, Steel King’s Director of Inside Sales, on this International Women in Engineering Day.
While advances have been made to attract and retain more women in engineering roles, in many respects various engineering career paths are still highly male dominated. Ekstrand has relished her work in engineering-related work in the material handling industry since 2000, after graduating from Oklahoma State University with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.
But if it weren’t for her love of softball and desire to play at the collegiate level, architecture might have been her career. “I was advised that, if I take the architecture track, I’d have no time to play softball, so civil engineering was recommended,” she recalls. In the engineering track, she found a dean and professors who were extremely supportive of her, working around the sports training and playing schedule, but at the same time expecting that academic demands be met. (She was named an Academic All American for her grades at the university.)
There were few women in some of her classes, but that didn’t bother her. “As someone who grew up playing baseball with boys, I quickly figured out how to interact and work in a field with so many men,” she says.
After graduation, she landed a job in the material handling industry, and was able to obtain a master of business administration (MBA) degree. Besides her structural engineering knowledge, the analytical nature of engineering has proved invaluable in her work. “I still do some engineering design and interpret documents, but the problem-solving aspect of engineering also is a huge asset in our work to come with solutions for our customers’ problems,” she says. “I truly love what I do on a daily basis,” she adds. “I enjoy managing my group, being a leader and collaborating with them.”
She notes that, like in any job, mistakes can be made. “But when you make a mistake, admit it readily, work hard to fix the error, and figure out how to make sure such a mistake doesn’t happen again.”
Collaboration is another trait she recommends women embrace in their careers. “Give everyone a chance to offer their input, respect what they say, and don’t be afraid to get your ideas out there, too,” she says.
Sports still play a big role in her life, as a coach for her daughter’s softball and soccer teams. “I relish being a role model for young women. As women in business look to role models, they also can be role models to others around them and to the next generation.”