Elaine started in 1987 as the first IT employee hired at a small Boeing subsidiary. Then, she transferred to Boeing Wichita, where she was a programmer for several years before relocating to Seattle. In 2010, she was one of the first five IT professionals to set up an IT presence at the Boeing South Carolina site. In 2014, she accepted an assignment to manage the Information Technology Global Operation management services organization.
She has received numerous awards, including Women of Color “All Star” and “Future Leaders in Development.” She recently served as President of the Boeing Black Employee Association at Boeing South Carolina.
What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?
First, growing up in a small town – Greenville, Mississippi – I was inspired by local African-American women who paved the way for me. These individuals acquired technical jobs in the late ‘70s with Fortune 500 companies in larger cities. They shared their success via mentorship and inspiring stories.
My mother also inspired me to pursue a technical degree. She would often witness me assemble portions of the sewing machine or my Easy Bake oven at home and encouraged my technical capabilities. I went to college and was the first in my family to obtain a degree. She would tell me, “You can be anything you want to be: doctor, accountant, computer programmer – the sky is the limit.”
What barriers did you face in your educational journey and career?
The biggest barrier in my educational journey was the transition from a small, predominantly African-American high school to a large diverse college (Mississippi State University). I quickly learned the benefit of networking across cultures to complete college work. I utilized this diversity learning at Boeing.
How has Boeing helped you grow your career as an engineer?
Boeing moved a portion of the KC-135 wing modification work to Greenville, my hometown, in the 1980s. I started with a Boeing subsidiary there in 1987. It was a small operation with a need to expand desktop computing, and I was the IT department!
Boeing helped my career growth by providing challenging and new technical opportunities in various program initiatives like the IT aspects of the 787 program. I worked configuration and technical issues with our international partners.
I have been fortunate to meet many great people who provided mentoring in key topics like “work-life balance” and career development. I am especially excited by the future initiatives around implementing and growing our Data Analytic capabilities.
How do Boeing’s diversity and inclusion efforts help engineers who are women and people of color?
For the past two years, I was fortunate to serve as the president of the Boeing Black Employee Resource Group. In that role, we were successful in local events promoting higher education, community involvement and cultural awareness. I learned that a small set of people can make a huge difference by being role models to students, and by doing our part in the community for many diverse groups including women and people of color. During the two years, I was exposed to our African American culture regarding the historic Tuskegee Airmen, Urban league initiatives, local Historically Black Colleges and local community needs.
What advice would you give an African-American woman interested in engineering or starting an engineering career today?
The advice I would provide is to have a career development plan for the first 5-10 years. The plan should include steps to obtain either a technical fellow or management path, a diverse set of career mentors, and a goal for obtaining master’s and doctoral degrees. And finally, be comfortable with your own leadership style and find jobs that embrace that style. I would not advise trying to be like any leader you admire, because if it is not authentic people will eventually find out.