20 to Watch: Women in HVAC - Sheila J. Hayter
Senior engineer, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; 2018-2019 president, ASHRAE
Name: Sheila J. Hayter
Title: Senior engineer, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; 2018-2019 president, ASHRAE
Educational Experience: B.S. mechanical engineering – Kansas State University and M.S. mechanical engineering – University of Colorado-Boulder.
Professional Credentials/Accreditations: P.E. in the state of Colorado.
Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: 2018-2019 ASHRAE president, ASHRAE fellow, ASHRAE Exceptional Service Award (2011), ASHRAE Distinguished Service Award (2001), ASHRAE Technology Award (1999), NREL Staff Award for Outstanding Performance (2007), and Kansas State University Professional Progress Award (2007).
When did you fall in love with engineering?
When my dad would help me with my elementary school math homework, he said it was important to learn math, so I would be ready to take thermodynamics when I was in college. For many years, I believed him and worked hard in my math classes all the way through high school knowing that someday I would need to be ready for my college thermodynamics class. It wasn’t until I was thinking about what I would study in college that I learned only engineers take thermodynamics. By then, I thought it was too late to consider any other degree, and I did eventually take that long-awaited thermodynamics class. It went better than I expected.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?
The most rewarding part of my career path is having the unique opportunity to simultaneously work at a national laboratory and be actively engaged with ASHRAE. My work at NREL has me looking constantly to the future – working in the buildings industry to find opportunities to deploy cutting-edge research and make our new energy future a reality. ASHRAE keeps me firmly planted in the now. For my entire career, I have been a bridge between these two worlds. Between my ASHRAE colleagues, on one hand, who work with realities in our profession every day, and on the other hand, my NREL colleagues, who work every day to dream up a better future for all of us.
What challenges do women face in this profession? Why aren’t there more women in engineering?
I believe the biggest challenge women face in the engineering profession is the lack of community. The few women who are in the profession often find themselves being one of a very small number of women in their professional circles for most, or all, of their professional lives. These women must work really hard to be “one of the guys” so that they are both respected for their contributions and considered an equal member of their teams on all levels. This lack of community can lead to a feeling of isolation. When young women feel they do not have peers in the classroom or the workplace, they often choose to pursue other degrees or other careers. Fortunately, I’ve seen more young women enter our profession through the years, but there is definitely room for more.
Describe what your job entails on a day-to-day basis.
My current “job” is to serve as the 2018-2019 ASHRAE president. As ASHRAE president, I believe my primary responsibilities are to motivate and inspire the 56,000-plus ASHRAE members worldwide to be leaders in their professions and communities. To accomplish this goal, I must be present by participating in as many member-led activities as possible, be engaged in conversations with industry stakeholders so that I am familiar with current and future industry trends, and be a leader by providing opportunities for the ASHRAE board of directors and other ASHRAE leaders to continuously guide the organization forward. To focus on only these three areas, it requires an amazing amount of time and travel. In fact, since the beginning of my term as ASHRAE President in June 2018, I have spent 70 percent of my time traveling to both domestic and international locations. I’ve also worked at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for nearly 27 years. I’m fortunate that the lab is willing to support my time to be ASHRAE president. My role at the lab during my year as ASHRAE president is to keep NREL thought-leaders aware of the insights I gain through my ASHRAE role to help inform NREL’s buildings sector research activities.
What drives/motivates you every day?
I’m motivated every day, knowing with confidence that the work I do is contributing to making the world a better place, along with many truly dedicated individuals worldwide.
Describe the proudest moment in your career.
Of course, being selected by the ASHRAE members to be the 2018-2019 ASHRAE president was an unparalleled moment of pride in my career. It’s quite humbling to be trusted by peers within my international professional network to fill this role. Also rewarding, I am so proud when I see a person I’ve mentored experience success. In both my ASHRAE and my NREL work, I’ve been in positions where I’ve helped individuals identify opportunities for professional growth and then worked with them to excel as they pursue those opportunities. It feels good watching these individuals thrive as their responsibilities grow.
What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t done yet?
I hope to spend the rest of my career in roles where I contribute to developing strategic direction for the buildings industry and then developing new and nurturing existing relationships to support growth in that strategic direction. I want to surround myself with creative, passionate people who are willing to push comfort zones to find new solutions to challenges facing the buildings industry. I think it would be super fun to be a member of an innovations think tank or another team tasked with finding totally new ways to solve a problem that maybe has not yet been defined.
What’s one thing no one knows about you?
I am a Level II Certified Alpine Ski Instructor. My happy place is exploring interesting and challenging routes from the top of a mountain in deep, fluffy, powdery snow. I enjoy helping others learn to love the sport and continuously improving my own alpine skiing skills. The views from up there are amazingly beautiful and rejuvenating.
List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success.
My dad, Richard Hayter (1995-1996 ASHRAE president), established my belief that ASRHAE provides a community for advancing technical knowledge and influencing positive change in how we use our valuable energy resources. My mom, Barbara Hayter, demonstrated throughout my life that to influence change, you must be engaged in the conversations on issues that matter most to you. Nancy Carlisle, my long-time manager at NREL, believed in me and helped me grow by encouraging me to take risks and learn from both my successes and failures. Don Bahnfleth (1985-1986 ASHRAE president), who hired me for my first real engineering job, taught me to always strive for the best engineering solutions no matter what size the problem is and taught me to be a better writer. These are just a few of the many people who have helped me learn, grow, and build confidence in my own abilities.
What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field? Find your professional community. Be sure this community includes people with a range of professional and personal experiences. The larger variety of experience there is in your community, the more you will learn. Be comfortable with the fact your professional community may not have as many women in it as your personal community may have. Be a resource for other women who are pursuing careers in engineering. By supporting one another, we will help more women want to enter and stay in engineering professions. Be an advocate for yourself. When you know you are the right person for the job/role/responsibility, be sure others also recognize your abilities for that job/role/responsibility. Put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to fail. When things don’t go as you plan, transition from being disappointed to viewing the situation as a learning experience as quickly as possible. Celebrate your successes and be sure others recognize those successes as well. Always spend your time doing what makes you feel good, because, in the end, this is what will make you happy in the career you have chosen.