‘Be a standout:’
Corning’s Michelle Engarto offers advice to young women in STEM
Michelle Engarto grew up loving puzzles and analyzing blueprints with her dad. Even with her innate skill in math and science, her guidance counselor recommended she become a secretary. She, in turn, said “no thanks.”
That young girl – who decided to pursue a STEM major at college and subsequently a profession historically dominated by men – now serves as the Vice President of Wireless Solutions Product Line Management at Corning. She is tasked with advancing Corning’s leadership in the field of in-building wireless, promoting the benefits of 5G integration, and most of all, serving as a leader to an entire product-line workforce.
While Michelle recognizes that female senior leaders are rare in the wireless industry, she believes that societal stereotypes and ingrained biases are to blame – not ability. For this reason, she calls on all future students to pursue their true passion, STEM or otherwise.
Today, Michelle adds another proof point to that statement, as the industry congratulates her for being named by Cablefax magazine to its 2020 list of Most Powerful Women in Technology.
We spoke with Michelle about her career experiences, the key people who influenced her in choosing a STEM career, and her advice to young women seeking a career in a STEM field.
What advice would you give to women seeking a STEM-focused education or job?
I’d tell them to go for it. There is no rulebook that says you must be male to succeed in STEM. There are only previous societal norms, which are meant to be broken.
Additionally, I’d offer three pieces of advice:
- Work hard and deliver excellent results. No matter what discipline you choose, strive for excellence in education and at your place of work. Be a standout.
- Find people in your organization who will tell you the truth about your performance, how you are viewed in the organization and what you need to improve. If you want to excel you need tough skin and a willingness to ask for and act on critical feedback. Remember, perceptions are reality.
- Be yourself. It has become a cliché but it is so important to be authentic. You can succeed being who you are without twisting yourself into a pretzel to fit what you think the mold is for a person in your position.
How have you used your leadership role to help advance female talent?
Back in the 90’s, I served as a founding member of an employee resource group at Corning called “Women in Manufacturing.” This group’s focus was to influence the hiring and promotion process, specifically in selecting female talent for traditionally male roles. In addition to that, I also am a founding member of another employee resource group, Corning’s Professional Women’s Forum. This group was founded in the late 1980s through the efforts of a small group of women who shared a common vision: to work in a business environment where diverse ideas and approaches strengthen business decisions.
As for today, I serve as a mentor to many Corning employees, an advocate for all women, and a leader who recognizes the value of diverse talent. My team knows that they are to hire the best person for the job. Diversity and inclusion are integral to Corning’s values – one of those values is “The Individual.” The company is committed to providing an inclusive environment where all employees can thrive.
Tell us about some key moments, and key influential figures in your life, who pointed you to a career in a STEM-related field.
My chemistry and math teachers in high school encouraged me to take AP math and science classes and to apply to engineering schools, which I did. Once I got started on my bachelor’s degree, I sought out counseling from a couple of professors to figure out what discipline I would like best and switched from electrical to industrial engineering. Since I was exposed to manufacturing and job shops through my dad’s line of work, I already had a strong interest in manufacturing. The University of Massachusetts did an excellent job exposing students to real companies and meaningful real-world applications, giving a sense for what work would actually be like in the discipline that solidified my path.
I also credit my family and their faith. I was taught that God gives us all different talents and skills and that it is our job to figure out what our gifts are and develop them to the fullest. I grew up surrounded by hard workers and they instilled a sense of pride in hard work and the joy of accomplishing what doesn’t come easily.
Do you believe that all the effort you put into pursuing a career in STEM was worth it?
Without a doubt. I would do it all over again. At Corning Optical Communications, we have this statement, “We build connections so the world can make them.” I feel a great sense of pride for what my colleagues and I do every day. We help families stay connected. We provide the opportunity for virtual connections like telemedicine. And when 5G is fully deployed, those opportunities for advancement in areas such as public safety, education, health and wellness, will only increase.
What are you looking forward to?
I look forward to seeing the success of those I have worked with and mentored and to see my kids (and hopefully grandkids) achieve their dreams regardless of what path they choose.