Putman Media’s Influential Women in Manufacturing program launched this year. We received nearly 100 nominations for women with varying titles across many industries. As part of the coverage, Chemical Processing is profiling winners in the chemical industry to learn more about their trials and triumphs. First up is Rachelle Howard, senior process control engineer, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and Chemical Processing’s newest editorial board member.
What got you interested in chemical engineering as a career path?
I had never heard of engineering until my junior year of high school. A teacher brought a few girls to a Women in Engineering Conference. That's when I actually learned what engineering was and realized it was a little bit more about solving problems and finding workable solutions — that part of it really resonated with me. I'd already applied to a lot of colleges for chemistry degrees. After going to that conference, I shifted gears from chemistry to chemical engineering and that's when I decided that was the path for me.
What are some of the challenges you face in your field?
I'm really fortunate to be at the company I'm with now. I don't feel like there's any gender bias. We have very open discussions and it doesn't matter what level you are. People are open and willing to listen. I think [I witness gender bias] more from previous companies or when I go to conferences or try joining different forum groups. Automation, like a lot of engineering, is predominantly composed of older men and, sometimes, the willingness to listen or take me in as also being an expert in this area is not really as open. That's more where I feel the challenges are. I have to prove myself a lot more before I get the crowd to start to listen. At my old job, I had to go through the task of having the same thing said by a couple of guys and then it was like, "Oh, okay. Yeah. Well, now I believe you." It was a little frustrating.