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Meet the Authors: Joan Wills and Karen Ramsey-Idem

Posted: October 17, 2023

How can you change the world? Start by telling your story.

Doing the Hard Work: Insights from Women Leading the Commercial Vehicle Industry highlights the experiences of women in STEM at every level. Authors Joan Wills, Executive Director of Software & Electronics Engineering at Cummins Inc., and Karen Ramsey-Idem, Cummins Global Hydrogen Regulatory Leader, wanted to share these stories to encourage others to tell their own.

The authors made it their goal to showcase as many different perspectives as possible to demonstrate all the ways a career can go.

“We started by putting together a matrix of diversity with dimensions such as different companies, types of work, geographical dimensions, as well as different stages in their careers,” Joan said.

She and Karen have both been active members within the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) for many years, and the two reached out to people they knew within the organization and across their respective professional networks to be a part of the project.

“I think [the values of] diversity, equity, and inclusion [DEI] echo frequently throughout the book. For many women, we're in fields that are frequently dominated by men, and so that inclusion becomes a very common aspect in these cases,” Karen said.

Because of the disproportionately high representation of men in engineering fields, it can be especially challenging for skilled women to fully exercise their abilities, and to take on leadership positions, the authors shared.

“Sometimes women get coached into softer skill roles very early in their careers, and I think that something that women need to do—and people need to support women in doing—is to take on tough, nearly impossible, tasks. Being supported and taking that risk is one of the things that leads to being ready for larger, senior roles in the future,” Joan said.

Karen described the role that current leaders play in this process must include open lines of communication between themselves and those they lead, backed with actions that demonstrate their support.

“I think that one of our responsibilities as leaders in a technical organization is to ensure that others around us have challenges and opportunities, and are supported as they work through them,” Karen said. “For me [as a leader], it’s about building effective relationships with people, and creating a culture of safety where they can feel free to say what is, or isn’t, challenging them.”

Doing the Hard Work facilitates such conversations through an array of questions asked to each featured person. Joan and Karen believe these questions can be used to foster communication—both internal and external—in a variety of settings.

“The questions can be good for discussion topics in places such as mentoring circles, where you have a group of people who work together to help each other. These questions can be used as a guide [for people] to think about their own careers, support one other, and tell their own stories,” Joan said.

Karen emphasized that it’s critical to have these conversations with both women in long-standing STEM careers as well as those that are new to the field or looking to break into it.

“We can begin to explore and think about what they might aspire to. The book can be great for introducing careers in STEM to students at that [young] age,” Karen said.

In addition to the interviews the authors conducted, publicly available data supports the conclusions that they’ve reached through their own experience: considering DEI and sustainability is critical to a thriving economy. Put simply, these considerations aren’t simply good for morale—they’re good for business.

“One in three engineering roles will go unfilled in the U.S. over the next decade, and the estimate will risk about $450 billion in economic output—despite public investment,” Joan said.  “Women are only sixteen percent of engineers represented in the mobility industry, so if we could double the graduation rate of women in engineering from 20 to 40 percent by 2030, we could fill the gap within the clean energy transition.”


Ready to join Joan and Karen in changing the world? Doing the Hard Work: Insights from Women Leading the Commercial Vehicle Industry is available now.