20 to Watch: Women in HVAC - Ashley Davitt
Engineering manager, ACCO Engineered Systems
Name: Ashley Davitt
Title: Engineering manager, ACCO Engineered Systems
Educational Experience: B.S. Mechanical Engineering – California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo.
Professional Credentials/Accreditations: P.E. in California and LEED AP.
Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: ASHRAE member and Women in Construction Operations (WiOPS).
When did you fall in love with engineering?
I was always tinkering with things at home as a kid trying to figure out they worked, but I didn’t fall in love with engineering until my third year in college when I started taking my major courses. My thermodynamics class was when it all “clicked” for me, and I saw how to apply the fundamentals I had learned in the first two years. Most specifically, my thermodynamics class got me excited for the rest of my schooling and future career.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?
I’ve worked for a contractor my entire career, and I’ve enjoyed seeing finished products. Seeing my design on a project go from lines on a piece of paper to ductwork and piping installations is rewarding. It’s exciting to hear from the field personnel doing the installation and the technicians who start-up the systems that the project was a success. It’s both humbling and rewarding to know that made a contribution to the finished product.
What challenges do women face in this profession? Why aren’t there more women in engineering?
More and more women are entering into engineering programs in college and I believe this is a result of exposure to STEM classes at a much younger age in schools now. The issue now comes retaining those women in engineering careers.
In a male-dominated industry, such as engineering, women face many challenges, including, but not limited to, unconscious biases, lack of support, and feeling as if they don’t fit in. I believe the majority of the challenges women face can be addressed through company culture. Just because a woman is an engineer does not mean she has to act like “one of the boys.” Feeling supported by management can make or break a career. Women leave technical careers because of the company culture and how they are treated by both internal employees and external customers. If the culture at a company is such that a female engineer feels they are treated fairly and given as many advancement opportunities as men then I believe you will see more women stay in engineering careers.
Describe what your job entails on a day-to-day basis
As engineering manager of ACCO’s Orange County, El Segundo, and Las Vegas offices, I’m responsible for the mentoring, training, and development of all the engineers in my department’s locations. My day-to-day responsibilities vary from the delegation of work to team members, review of team member’s work, coordination with other departments, management of department budgets, hiring and recruiting, development of engineering standards, and designation as engineer of record (stamped and signed) for many of the projects completed within my departments.
What drives/motivates you every day?
I love what I do. Getting to share my knowledge with my company’s engineers and seeing their careers develop is really gratifying. Being an example to other female engineers at my company is also very important to me. I want to be an example to them that choosing a challenging and demanding career and having a rich and rewarding family life are both possible. My kids are my biggest motivation though. As a mom to two boys, I want to set an example of what women can achieve. My goal is to raise my boys into men who advocate for women in their career development so that this next generation grows up knowing women can achieve anything a man can.
Describe the proudest moment in your career
I tell my engineers to take pride in their work and what they accomplish. One of my favorite and rewarding projects was a sound stage project that had very specific noise criteria requirements while filming on the stage. Lengthy acoustical analysis went in to selecting equipment, ductwork sizing and layout, and air distribution layout to achieve the results. The project ultimately achieved better noise criteria levels than predicted by our acoustical analysis.
What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t done yet? As my company ventures into different arenas, I want to develop my plumbing, process piping, and controls engineering expertise. I believe being a resource in these areas, in addition to HVAC, will help my own personal development as well as the engineers in my department.
What’s one thing no one knows about you?
I went skydiving in college. I was much more adventurous before having kids.
List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success
I’ve had many mentors throughout my 14 years at ACCO Engineered Systems, and each has come at a different phase in my career. My first mentor was our chief engineer, Peter Narbonne. He initially helped guide my career path by steering more technical jobs my way in order to get exposure to a variety of project types. One word of advice he gave me that I carry with me as I progress in my career is, “You can have it all, you just can’t have it all at the same time.” I take this advice to heart specifically now as I try and balance ambition and motherhood. Justin Kirchart, director of engineering operations, has also been a huge influence on my career by helping me create a path that utilized both my project management and engineering skills as I transitioned back to work after having my first child. He has been a big advocate for me advancing into leadership and management roles in the company. Jeanette James, senior project manager, has also been a big influence on my career. She and I started our careers around the same time, and we have been big supporters of each other throughout our time at ACCO. She is someone I can discuss openly the struggles of ambition, career development, and motherhood with.
What does the future hold for you?
This is so cliché, but the future is bright. I took on the engineering manager role a couple of months ago and am excited to see how the department and its engineers develop as the company ventures into new engineering roles, including plumbing and controls as well as new geographic locations. I believe there is tremendous growth opportunity for myself within the organization. As I develop my leadership skills, plumbing, and controls technical knowledge, I hope to take on a larger engineering leadership role in the southern region.
What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?
Definitely go for it. Being an engineer has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. Once someone has chosen that path and has entered the workplace, I recommend finding both a mentor and an advocate. These can be people inside your own organization or external. A mentor is someone who will help you in your day-to-day role as an engineer and an advocate will be one who pushes you to go for that promotion and creates opportunities for you. I have been lucky enough to have both during my career, and it has made all the difference.