Setting a New Standard for Success: Women in STEM Talk Life at 3M
Jun 1, 2018

It's not all science all the time. During their discussion, these two found that they both enjoy knitting outside of the office.

  • At 3M, we want all employees to have careers full of challenging experiences while making a difference. Here, women in STEM inspire us every day by asking important questions and devoting their work to solutions that will make an impact across the globe.  

    We recently asked Manufacturing Software Engineer Maria Damiani and IT Manager Sue Hanson to sit down with each other and chat about their experiences at 3M and where they find confidence. While both deal with data in their day-to-day work, each woman is at a different point in her career—Maria has worked at 3M for three and a half years, while Sue’s career spans 30 years.

  • Being that this is the first time you’ve met, did you discover anything you have in common outside of being a woman in STEM at 3M?

    Maria and Sue: We actually have a lot in common. We both love to garden, kayak and knit. But since kayaks and gardening tools seemed too difficult to bring into the office, we settled on taking a photo of us knitting together (see above).

  • How would you describe your first year working at 3M vs. today?

    Maria: I really struggled my first year at 3M. I had no real experience with programming outside of school, because I had done my internships in electrical work. So, I’d just try to learn as quickly as possible, and it was a lot more stressful and harder for me to have confidence in what I was doing.

    Today I have a lot more experience and background knowledge, and for all the things I haven’t learned yet, I know what I don’t know and I’m ok with it because I have the basic knowledge and contacts to go about learning things as I need them. And I have a lot more technical programming experience so I feel like I know what I’m talking about, which helps.

    Sue: It’s interesting to look back and appreciate how much my confidence has increased as the scope of what I know and who I know has increased – it’s been a natural progression. 

  • Have you ever thought about leaving 3M? What made you stay?

    Maria: I’ve stayed here because I’ve always liked the variety. It’s the same reason I came to 3M. I don’t have a dream job that I’m super narrowed in on, so being able to try out different jobs while having the stability of staying at one company is great. 3M has a good balance of that. 

    I also think the culture is positive. Before 3M, I interned at several other places and I noticed more of a competitive culture at those other companies, where people will try to make each other look bad and themselves look good. At 3M, it seems like the focus really is on the goals of the project, not backstabbing and climbing. People mean well here. 

    Sue: I have thought about leaving, but not seriously. When I look at opportunities outside of 3M, I don’t see anything that competes with the opportunities I have right in front of me. Things move very quickly here compared to other places. In my case, the grass is not greener on the other side.

  • What advice would you tell your 22-year-old self?

    Maria: I would tell myself not to worry so much. Just take one thing at a time. You don’t need to know what you are going to do when you’re 75. Just figure out what you’re going to do next. 

    Sue: This may be the mom in me talking, but I would say worry more and think more about what you are going to do with your life. I was a very free spirit at 22 but not very intentional about it.

    Maria: [laughs] Just like everything, it’s all about balance. Try to find the middle of worrywart and free spirit. 

  • Where do you find confidence?

    Maria: One thing I’ve learned from engineering school is you can’t just know how to do everything. My confidence lies in the fact that there have been enough times where I have not known how to do something, but I’ve taught myself the necessary skills and succeeded, sometimes even excelled. So, I’m confident that I can teach myself to do what is necessary to solve any problems I may encounter.

    Sue: One thing I told my kids a lot when they were in school, and that applies on the job as well, is that you work from what you know to what you don’t know. You can start with what you know, and then work up to the next step, then the next, etc. Sooner or later, you find that you’ve built up your knowledge to the level you need to be successful. But you can’t go from what you currently know to the end result – you have to take it step by step.

  • What’s the biggest change for women in STEM you’ve seen?

    Maria: I went to engineering summer camp starting in 5th grade all the way through high school, then I was a counselor there in my college years. Over that period of time, I saw more women viewing STEM as an option. I think there is a lot more effort going into informing women about STEM, so that’s good.

    Sue: It’s more of an accepted option now because women have already gone down the path and widened it for us. 

  • How can people be more of an advocate for women in their careers?

    Maria: I’ve had some trouble with people treating me differently because I’m a female engineer, but I’ve never felt like anyone needs to make it easier for me. I have the equivalent intelligence and background as male engineers. I think people can be advocates by helping women get the background skills and the confidence to even enter the STEM field in the first place. 

    Sue: I don’t think women should be given special treatment - it should be a level playing field. But I have noticed that women may come across as not as firm or decisive because of style. 

    For example, when I write emails, I’ll write, “I think” or ask, “What do you think?” and I sometimes hesitate to make definitive statements like “We should do this.” This may seem wishy washy to others, but for me it’s about wanting people to feel like they can respond and disagree with me if they have different ideas or need to explore something further. 

    It’s important to recognize that some women have a different way of getting things done that can be just as effective, but may not be the same way most men would do it. Don’t make the male standard the standard for success.

  • What advice would you give to other women in STEM finding themselves the sole woman at the table?

    Maria: Don’t think about it. I rarely notice that I am the only woman in the room because we’re all just people thinking about how to solve a problem. It’s irrelevant. 

    Sue: I would say the same thing, but when I notice it, I just smile to myself. Enjoy that you’re there, and get on with it.

  • What has been your experience with 3M?

    Maria and Sue’s stories are truly inspiring and at 3M, we want to make sure all of our employees’ voices are heard. Whether you’re a candidate who has interviewed with 3M or a current employee, we’d love for you to anonymously share your experiences with us on our Glassdoor page.

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