Name: Pam Duffy

Title: Founder/Owner of Spark One Solutions, Co-Founder/Owner of Powerhouse Consulting Group

Age: 35

Educational Experience: Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering, University of Central Florida

Professional Credentials/Accreditations: Professional Engineer (P.E.)

Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: ASHRAE, Distinguished Lecturer and Distinguished Service Award; and Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Life Member

What caused you to/when did you fall in love with engineering?

Growing up in Florida, I was lucky enough to visit theme parks frequently. I was totally in awe about the behind-the-scenes work required for different theme park attractions. I learned that imagineers were the people behind the rides, and I wanted to be one of them. I pursued a degree in mechanical engineering at UCF in Orlando, Florida. After interning with the engineering team at Universal Studios Orlando, I decided I much preferred the mystery to understanding the magic. In seeking other industries, I crossed paths with engineers who were volunteers with ASHRAE, and the rest is history.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?

The most rewarding part of working in this industry is how many people are impacted by our work. The built environment is a huge part of our everyday lives. Our work is experiential — it’s something my friends and family can understand the importance of. I have a sense of pride knowing that the impact of the HVACR industry is so far-reaching. Not many people in other industries can say that.

Describe the proudest moment in your career.

So many moments come to mind! Successfully acquiring my P.E. license, launching new VRF products, being named an ASHRAE distinguished lecturer, mentoring others to achieve their own success, etc.

Launching my first business and being profitable from the beginning has been the most personally satisfying achievement. Now, owning several businesses, I’m truly amazed at what I’ve been able to achieve.

What challenges do women face in this profession? Can you give a personal example? Why aren’t there more women in engineering? How can we increase the number of women in engineering?

There is a lot of research on women in engineering, but I will focus on just a few items.

Women must prove themselves in all skill sets doubly hard as men. This phenomenon is researched by sociologists and is called the “Prove it Again” bias. Women must prove their competence over and over to prove they have what it takes — whether it’s technical or leadership skills. I personally experienced this bias many times in my career, particularly in my first few years.

In one case, I was asked to complete the same type of project five times under direct supervision to deem I was ready to perform that scope of work on my own. By the second project, I was already receiving outstanding feedback, such as “perfect” and “no changes,” but I was asked to continue to work under direct supervision. When men with less experience came into the role, they were allowed to work without supervision after their first project.

My experience is a good case study in Prove It Again bias, as this bias often manifests as women being judged on performance where men are judged based on their potential performance. Now that I know more about gender bias specifically as it relates to technical roles, the trends I’ve seen in the workplace (women getting increased responsibilities later than men) make sense. That doesn’t make it right.

Another challenge women face is that most women naturally excel at project management tasks. Because of this, many companies assign women project management work (tracking deadlines, creating agendas, taking notes, scheduling meetings, even being the person to “drive” the slide deck, etc.). Even if women are amicable to this administrative work, it leaves less time for them to focus on developing their technical skills.

Regarding getting more women to enter the field, research shows there are more women than ever entering the field; however, there is significant attrition among women engineers. Studies show that after experiencing the workplace for a few years, women leave the field in astounding numbers. Most women cite gender-related issues. Certainly, for me, I have never felt more supported in my career than working for myself.

I think increasing retention of women in engineering lies in the hands of people in leadership roles. They must offer employees opportunities for cross-training and technical development, which has the added benefits of having backup for subject matter experts and widens the succession planning pipeline; rotate administrative responsibilities through all team members; and be aware of their own biases and personal experiences, which influences their coaching of employees. There should be many paths to success. People with different backgrounds may not have had the same opportunities or experiences (even dating back to childhood). Perhaps most importantly, always promote women in engineering.

What does your day-to-day job entail?

I spend most of my time meeting with clients, responding to their inquiries, and working on solutions. I also manage several employees, working to support them to ensure they are successful. Finally, I strive to meet all clients expectations.

What drives/motivates you every day?

My job directly supports the work of other businesses. It is immensely gratifying to know the work I specialize in helps other people focus on the work they specialize in.

Owning a business comes with a lot of pressure, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My work, every day, has a direct impact on whether my businesses are successful or not, which motivates me to provide the best possible service to our clients.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?

I was working remotely full time before the pandemic started, so there was not much disruption to my daily work. I did experience a huge influx of business, because most of the consulting I do is related to digital or cloud-based solutions. Businesses were looking to invest more in online platforms, especially as the pandemic dragged on after those first few weeks.

What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?

The great thing about this field is that it’s always evolving. I don’t know what the next milestone is just yet, but I’m excited to find out. I would love to see someone I managed or mentored exceed my success.

What’s one thing no one knows about you?

I’m addicted to automation. I love using technology to my advantage. It’s some of my favorite client work, too.

List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success.

Harmony Myers, now a director at NASA, was one of the first practicing engineers I met. She helped me explore multiple possible career paths. Harmony was always candid about what it was like to work as a woman in engineering, which helped me set expectations for my career.

Wade Conlan, now commissioning and energy discipline manager at Hanson Professional Services, was the technical mentor for my senior design project at UCF. He was patient with me and my team as we learned mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) system design for the first time. Later in my career, Wade was always a listening ear, and I could rely on him for sound advice. His feedback helped me navigate some of my more challenging career situations.

What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?

Do the work things that scare you. Volunteer or ask to be assigned to projects and tasks where you don’t feel completely comfortable. Whether it’s doing commissioning work on-site, writing a controls sequence, or giving a presentation to clients, there’s only one way to get better, and that’s with practice. Ultimately, these experiences make you more well-rounded.