Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) has been a cultural focal point in recent years and strongly complements the over-arching dialogue around matters of equal pay, professional development among men and women, parental leave and sexual harassment. Two industries that may face the most challenge in the gender equity arena are defense and IT.
For one former Marine Corps IT Specialist and current Viasat employee, working in a male-dominated industry was hardly an adjustment from military to civilian life. Andrea Hanlon spent her years in the Marine Corps serving in communications, handling radio and SATCOM equipment and operations and eventually serving as a manager in the Telecom and IT department (also known as the G6). It wasn’t until she transitioned out of the Marine Corps that she realized Viasat would be a very natural home for someone with her unique capability and experience.
“My skillset transitioned directly,” said Hanlon. “The foundation and troubleshooting skills that I had were helpful.”
Hanlon started as a Field Applications Engineer and, with her unique perspective, was able to transform her professional path toward Test Engineering. She is often called into meetings by managers for her expertise in what makes a product user-friendly. Often, the operators from client organizations are working in a fast-paced environment with no margins for error. Hanlon remembers what that was like as an operator and applies her experience to her input.
Her expertise lies in troubleshooting and design, understanding the practical application of the equipment and the users who will be operating it.
When asked specifically about her feelings on working in a field where women are few and far between, Hanlon seemed unfazed.
“I’m not afraid to speak my mind. If you don’t speak your mind you will find yourself falling out of conversations.”
What’s interesting about Hanlon’s career path is she had more than the gender gap to bridge; she also had to learn how to “speak civilian” and adapt to a world where she was a minority within a minority.
Addressing her transition from a military to a civilian career, Hanlon admits it wasn’t easy. Some of her best practices for transitioning vets include joining public speaking organizations like Toastmasters to aid in their ability to speak “civilian.” Any immersion into civilian culture is so crucial to adapting to the outside world.
What is so apparent about Hanlon’s success is that it’s due to her adaptability and general fearlessness. Until women in tech is a commonplace concept, these are the characteristics that will help drive women’s careers and confidence in their professional lives. While never easy, allowing your merit to define you above all other qualities is a guaranteed way to adapt and overcome adversity.