Lady Boss #1: Tanya Schade
Updated: Feb 3
Tanya has a BASc in Mechanical Engineering from Queen's University. She loves yoga, fitness, health & nutrition and vegetarian cooking. Read on for more about her career's ups and downs, what motivates her and her advice for young women interested in STEM.
What has been your biggest professional accomplishment?
I was sought out by one of the Canadian VPs of one of the biggest elevator companies in the world to work for him. He told me that everyone he spoke to within the industry who knew me spoke very highly of me and the work that I do. After interviewing and taking a job, almost all of my new coworkers told me that they knew I was going to be a huge asset and were extremely excited when they heard I was joining the team. As much as it's based in the opinions of other people, the fact that I've been able to impress upon everyone within my industry that I work with that I'm a very competent, smart person means a huge amount to me. I want to excel at everything I do and I received validation through that experience.
What life accomplishment are you most proud of?
One of my greatest accomplishments was running my personal best time in the Niagara Falls Half Marathon and placing third in my category. That was a couple of years ago now and injuries have prevented me from continuing to improve upon that but it was a real highlight and I hope to be able to run again and work on it one day. I get a huge amount of satisfaction from meeting or exceeding fitness goals I set for myself so this one was huge for me.
What makes you feel most proud to be in STEM?
I love the idea of breaking down walls for things that women usually aren't considered to excel at. When I started in engineering I was a bit oblivious to what an anomaly many people think women in engineering is; I loved math and physics so it seemed like a natural thing for me to do. I had no idea how often I would hear the words "good for you" when I told people I was in engineering (both while in school and since entering into the work force). It's so patronizing. I'd love for society to get to a point where women in STEM don't have to hear the same sort of encouragement as a toddler who just went potty when they tell people what they do. I want to be as much a part of breaking down the stigma as I can be.
Provide an example of when you made a mistake and used it to better yourself.
When I first started my current job I inherited a project from someone else that was already underway. Not knowing the vendors personally, I took the previous manager's word for delivery dates and assumed they would deliver. I came into the role being too naive about being able to take the word of my vendors but they ended up not keeping their word and I didn't have anything in writing because I trusted the previous manager's relationship. I learned a huge lesson that day, and while, ultimately, I was able to make things work out for the project I learned a lot about project management and interaction with vendors through that experience. My next few projects have gone much smoother and I make sure everything is documented and everyone is on the same page. It was a blessing that that project was small scale enough that I was able to correct it and not affect the bottom line because if that had happened on a larger project I might not have been able to fix it. I'm better at my job now because of that experience as much as it was tough to deal with at the time.
Provide an example of when you doubted yourself and your abilities but were able to push through and succeed.
Coming out of university I was really unsure of what I wanted to do and really what I was good at. Surrounded by some of the smartest people I've ever known who knew exactly what they wanted to do and how to get there all I knew was that I had this degree that, in theory, could take me in any number of directions. I didn't see a huge likelihood of succeeding at being an "engineer" (i.e. designing things and crunching numbers) like my smart friends would. I spent some time talking to different people and learned that there were some unique directions I could take my degree that didn't involve crunching numbers day in and day out. I ended up going in a direction that was pretty unusual and I've turned it into something that I've really excelled at. I've found that the path isn't always obvious but if you find an angle on something that you like you can really run with it and make it into something that works for you.
Have you ever felt that being a woman in a technical field has held you back in your career?
In a word, yes. I think there are definitely times when men underestimate me. There have been countless times where I've had to hold my tongue when people have belittled me in business settings. I can only imagine what has gone on when I'm not around where those same men may have had an impact on other people's opinion of my abilities. It's a tough pill to swallow but I have to take it in stride and do everything I can to prove the chauvinists wrong.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice based on what you know now, what would it be? and when?
The first week of university. I think I'd go back and tell myself to study more in my first two years of university. I really didn't find my focus until I was in third year and I think that put me at a disadvantage, having not learned as much as people who really applied themselves in their first two years.
How did you perceive STEM careers in high school compared to what you know now?
I hadn't really thought about STEM in high school to be honest. I had tunnel vision on doing something with dance and I sort of just fell into STEM without even realizing the stigma of it.
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a ballerina. That lasted until graduating high school!
Now, what do you want to be when you grow up?
I don't know. I'm enjoying seeing where my experiences take me for now and we'll see what happens.
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