While on a family vacation, a young Stephanie Drenten Ferro visited the Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida. On-site, she had the opportunity to chat with an aerospace engineer and learn more about what he does. She vividly remembers walking away from the conversation thinking, “Wow! I want to do that.”
Fiona Martin McCarthy received her first real toolbox when she was 4. From that day forward, she became obsessed with assembling projects in her basement with her father. Today, she’s turned that curiosity into a career as a project manager with Grumman/Butkus Associates.
Soph Davenberry, chief technology officer of the National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC), struggled to gain entry into the industry she loves, despite boasting industry-specific credentials.
“As a young union organizer many years ago, I called a lot of companies to apply for work as an HVAC technician and was told there were no positions available,” she said. “If I called and said I was asking ‘on behalf of my husband,’ suddenly the company couldn’t get ‘him’ on the payroll quick enough. I’ve been told, to my face, that I was taking a man’s job, and I would only ever be allowed to run one certain piece of equipment.”
At this point in her career, Davenberry has made it very clear: She prefers to be recognized as an engineer — not a female engineer or a woman with a career in engineering. Just an engineer. Period.
“I’d like to challenge anyone who has a habit of describing someone as a ‘female engineer,’ ‘female doctor,’ or ‘female mechanic’ to try labeling men the same way: ‘male engineer,’ ‘male doctor,’ or ‘male mechanic,’ said Davenberry. “If that seems silly, it is. I am a sheet metal worker. I am an engineer. I am a professional in an industry that must change our demographics in order to thrive.”
20 to Watch: Women in HVAC
While Drenten Ferro, Martin McCarthy, and Davenberry’s stories are becoming much more commonplace, women are still vastly underrepresented in the workforce. According to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, only 398,000 women — or 14% of all engineers — are employed in architecture and engineering occupations.
In 2018, Engineered Systems' Midwest/Western regional sales manager, Carrie Halbrook, suggested we create a contest to honor the outstanding work done by the industry’s leading ladies. In January 2019, we introduced the winners of our inaugural 20 to Watch: Women in HVAC contest. Upon a warm reception, we continued the contest in 2020 and 2021. I’m ecstatic to officially announce that this contest will be back for a fourth year in 2022.
Our 2019-2021 lists include 60 outstanding individuals, each boasting their own achievements and stories.
Nominations for the 2022 rendition of the 20 to Watch: Women in HVAC contest are now open. From a journalist’s desk, I cherish the ability to share these women’s stories — stories that continue to nurture the flourishing role of women in the industry. Here’s a great opportunity to grant the women at your firm the recognition they deserve.