For this installment of Ask An Influencer, MxD interviews Laura L. Bogusch, Functional Chief Engineer for Systems Engineering and Chief Engineer for Digital Transformation at Boeing, about women in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce. MxD wants to know what STEM leaders like Bogusch can do to ensure more girls and women follow a career path where they are notably underrepresented. According to the latest (and pre-pandemic) U.S. Census figures, men make up 52% of all U.S. workers but 73% of all STEM workers.
With a 25-year career at Boeing, a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a master’s from U. of I., and graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bogusch has an unparalleled view of STEM. At Boeing, she has worked on a range of projects, including development of the 787 Dreamliner’s composite fuselage. Bogusch, an MxD Executive Council member, is currently based in Charleston, S.C., where the 787 is manufactured and where she continues to encourage women, as well as all young people, to pursue a career in STEM.
What has your path taught you about how to get people — especially women and girls — interested in STEM careers?
The Short Answer
Most importantly, you have to find ways to encourage students and get them excited about math and science early. To do that, spend time in schools with younger children, help capture their attention and inspire their passions. This is one of the best ways to motivate them toward a future career in engineering or in aerospace. Knowledge is knowing, and by sharing the possibilities and opportunities STEM provides, we are unlocking the potential for all students, especially women and girls.
It’s also important we participate as role models and mentors. It’s our responsibility to share our career journeys and experiences. In the past, I would shy away from getting that sort of attention. But I recognize that for the future of the company and for the future of the industry, we want the best talent we can get. In order to do that, we’ve got to give every person an opportunity to see themselves here. If we aren’t welcoming the full spectrum of the workforce, we will be holding ourselves back.
The Long Answer
Encouragement is crucial. For me, that started with my parents, who were both pharmacists. My mom was one of very few women in her college pharmacy program, and I saw how she advocated for herself to ensure she got the opportunities she wanted. She told me and my sister we could be anything we wanted, and she was right. I also credit my mom for finding a way for me and my sister to take computer programming classes at a really young age.
My experience in those classes and the opportunities they opened up for me have become a cornerstone of the story I now share about my journey into the aerospace industry and career at Boeing.
Boeing is committed to preparing and inspiring the next generation to be the innovators and explorers of the future, and the company supports STEM education and opportunities in nearly every community where we operate. As a Boeing leader, I represented the company, along with the Salt Lake Chamber, to urge Utah state lawmakers to approve legislation requiring computer science education in every school. Being a part of the force which helped pass the law in 2019 was one of the most rewarding experiences in my career.
We also have a program at Boeing South Carolina — where the Dreamliner is made — called DreamLearners. In April, the company announced more than one million students have participated in the instructional program since it began in 2012. Students participate in hands-on, STEM-based group activities, discover different careers at Boeing and learn about the benefits of a STEM-focused education. The program is open to students of all ages and also meets the Force and Motion standards for fifth-grade students in South Carolina.
A background in STEM is such a great foundation, not just for a career, but for really understanding the world around you. Additionally, we have investments with schools and universities across the globe to help fund programs where STEM is at the forefront.
Over the last 25 years or so, many college engineering disciplines have enrolled a greater number of women. However, the aerospace industry and aerospace engineering are lagging. I sit on the alumni advisory board for the Department of Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Illinois, and it’s something we talk about often. How do we do a better job of attracting and retaining women and other minorities? Diversity of thought is so important to getting the most creative solutions.
During the pandemic, we set up a remote leadership series for about 20 of our Boeing interns. I invited colleagues from various parts of the company with very diverse backgrounds to share their journeys with these interns. I’ve since received feedback that some of them are joining the company full-time, which is really gratifying.
COVID-19 has certainly challenged some of the company’s efforts in recent years, so I’ve been very focused on making myself available for anyone inside the company who wants to have an informational discussion about my career. They can ask me questions, and I’ll share my experiences and journey. It’s really easy for me to think “Oh gosh, I’ve said this so many times. This person doesn’t need to hear it again.” But you just don’t know when something’s going to really make a difference for someone.
As I’ve grown in my career, I realize how important it is to put myself out there as a role model for others. In my own life, I didn’t have to look far for that example. I had it in my mom. But not everyone has that at home. They might be the first person in their family who’s excited about math and science, so they may be looking for someone to emulate.
I’ve gotten feedback from women who have told me it was very meaningful to them to hear my story, to see what I have done. That has really stuck with me, and I recognized I needed to be willing to step out of my comfort zone and help lead other women into STEM-based careers.