Shining in a man’s world
It is common knowledge that women in traditionally male-dominated career fields often face challenges from their male counterparts.
A chemical engineer for the last 14 years, Shernel Layne wasn’t lucky enough to escape this pressure. However, she chose instead to use it to her advantage, to further propel her career.
“At the start of my career, there was a lot of pressure to prove myself because I was a female in a leadership role and I was working in a traditionally male-dominated industry,” Layne explained. “That pressure motivated me to work harder. Today there isn’t pressure but more support and encouragement from colleagues.”
Although she has perfected the art of ignoring the pressure, Layne admitted that she still faces some challenges in her job simply because she is a woman. “Apart from sometimes dealing with sexism and the belief by some males that the engineering field is not for women, it is a challenge to stay competent and up-to-date with technological advances,” she said.
She went on: “I don’t think about it. For me, it’s about giving of my best in any situation or circumstance. I have a strong sense of self. I’m assertive and I’m competent.”
But where exactly did the love for engineering come from? Layne told Barbados TODAY it was her inquisitive nature. “My love for this field came about as a result of my general interest in the way things are designed and manufactured, how they work and why they work the way they do,” she said.
“I’ve always had an interest in maths and science from a young age and knew that my career path would be one in the area of science and technology,”Layne went on. “It was in my teens that I began to think about the field of engineering and my focus on chemical engineering was developed as I discovered that with chemical engineering, I could have a profession with diverse opportunities across multiple industries and use my analytical and problem-solving skills.”
Guided by a philosophy of “Live to learn, learn by doing and do to be fulfilled,” Layne goes about her daily duties always willing and ready to learn new things. Her job would seem attractive to most as she gets to be around distilled spirits very often. She walked us through what a day in the life of a chemical engineer involves.
“A day for me entails work, exercise and relaxation. In my current role, I provide technical support to clients in the distilled spirits industry so most days vary but can typically involve distillery site visits, reviewing process operations and data, troubleshooting, meetings, and some form of experimental design.
“My exercise comes in the form of a gym workout, aerial silks or hours moving around a distillery climbing columns and tracing pipelines. Relaxation involves reading, watching television and spending time with family,” she said.
Layne is more than thankful for all the opportunities afforded to her through her job. “I love the opportunity it provides to travel and to work with and interact with some extremely talented and passionate scientists, engineers and academics. It provides me with ability to be hands on when needed, to write technical papers, present at international conferences and set my own schedule to a great extent,” she said.
Given that she is always on a plane, flying here, there and yonder, Layne said it can be a struggle to find time for personal life, but she strongly believes life is about balance so she works hard to balance the two. “I strongly believe that one has to have a balanced life and as important as it is to focus on one’s career, one must also make time for the more important things like family, personal well-being and health,” she said.
For young women considering a career in the engineering field or in any male-dominated field for that matter, Layne encouraged them to “go for it! Be sure it is something you love and don’t expect it to be easy. Expect challenges but pursue your passions with intensity, hone your skills and find a mentor.”
She added that is also why she works so hard daily in the hope that she could inspire some young woman to do the same.“I am hoping that by being a success in my field, I can inspire other women to trust their instincts, step out of their comfort zones and consider engineering as a career path.”