Carolyn Oldani is an engineer by trade and a natural-born leader. She graciously spared a portion of her busy Monday morning to chat with us about her career, her mentors and the advice she’d give to modern women.
How did you get where you are today?
I was raised on a dairy farm, which means I was instilled with a strong work ethic and a sense of integrity. I learned that I had strong analytical skills, which eventually led me to engineering. But it quickly became apparent that being capable on the technical side of things isn’t enough if you want to be a good leader. I had to develop my “people skills,” because that’s where you can have the greatest impact. You have to learn how to be a coach to help impact culture.
Who has helped you along the way?
I have mentors who are in my field and outside of it. In the past, I’ve been part of group mentoring sessions where you talk to peers from different disciplines, and I’ve also been in women’s groups — both were effective. Essentially, you need to find a support system that works for you.
Have you ever felt like you were treated differently for being a woman in your career?
Yes. I’ve had people say, “I’m not gonna work for any damn woman.” But that was an extreme case. For the most part, I’ve found that people respond to confidence. If you want others to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself. I have also heard people ask if a woman is tough enough to be in a leadership role. Women’s leadership styles don’t always match men’s. But I think as more women get into male-dominated fields, the definition of what makes a good leader will change. It starts with people seeing women succeeding as leaders.
How important is it for women to work together in their careers?
It’s very important, but you don’t have to limit yourself to women. I got very comfortable working around men.
Are you a mother? If so, how do you balance motherhood and being a full-time professional?
Ha! Yes, I’m a mother AND a grandmother. My husband and I both worked initially, but once we had children, he stayed home. He took care of the children and the house, which allowed me to focus on my career. That’s what worked for us, but that won’t necessarily work for everyone. My daughter works from home, and that gives her more flexibility as a mother. There are various approaches to finding balance; the key is finding a creative solution that works for you and your family.
Some have called 2018 “The Year of Women.” Do you feel like women have finally come into their own?
Well, I’ve seen a lot of positive change over the last 25 years as a woman. But on the other hand, we still have a long way to go. I was recently at an industry meeting with all of these company leaders, and the only women in the room were my manager, Janel and myself. I thought to myself, How do we get this to change faster?
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Careers are challenging. You’re going to feel afraid. And you have to realize that any successful career is hard work. The best advice I can give is to grow your confidence, and you will develop momentum that propels your career forward.