HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Angie Tymofichuk, retired member of the Senior Executive Service and former Director of Engineering and Technical Management for the Air Force Sustainment Center, spoke during Engineer Week last week, saying that — just like Rosie the Riveter, the cultural icon during World War II encouraging women to work in factories while men were away at war — women need to step up now to fill the shortage of women engineers and scientists and other STEM careers in the military.
Tymofichuk pointed out some grim figures — only 8 percent of women are currently working in STEM fields at Hill Air Force Base.
In hopes of recruiting more women into the field, Tymofichuk spoke of her experience moving up the ranks in the military. “I was the only civilian female to fly on the Argus aircraft out in the Persian Gulf, flying night missions. I was pretty blessed because I went outside my box, raised my hand and said I would like to do that, and people let me,” Tymofichuk said.
In the first 15 years of her career, Tymofichuk says she had only male supervisors, but they never treated her any differently. She credits her interest in science to her father, who never treated her any differently, either. Tymofichuk helped her dad with home remodeling and fixing cars. “He never said, ‘You are a girl, so you can’t do it,’ ” Tymofichuk said.
As Tymofichuk looks at her experiences in life, she recalls the teacher who got her started down her path. Everyone was to participate in the school play during senior year at their small Catholic high school. Tymofichuk admitted she didn’t have any musical talent or interest in working on backdrop sets, so rather than attend play rehearsal, Tymofichuk and three other students learned how to program computers with the help of one of the teachers. Their team ended up competing and winning top spots in regional and state competitions. “She made it fun and opened our eyes to what was out there,” Tymofichuk said.
After graduating from college and becoming a physicist in the Air Force, Tymofichuk set two goals for herself — have a child by the time she turned 30 and become a member of the Senior Executive Service by the time she turned 40. As it turned out, she ended up having a child born three days before she turned 30 and was selected for Senior Executive Service at age 40. Tymofichuk encouraged other women in STEM careers to set goals for themselves, too, no matter how far-fetched they may seem.
Tymofichuk pointed out that women in STEM careers have to learn how to deal with failures and move forward. “Women tend to hold onto failures and are concerned about impressions, but so what. You made a mistake. It’s not about the hand of cards you are dealt, it’s how you play them. If you make mistakes, flush them and move on,” Tymofichuk said.
It can be hard to draw the line on emotions in the career field, another thing that can be an issue for women. “It’s a continual discussion in the field and it is OK to show emotions, but you have to put it in check and make decisions, even if no one is going to like it, but you have to make that balance,” Tymofichuk said.
Ultimately, she said, women have to find a balance between home and work life. Women in a working career field typically have a spouse and kids, so Tymofichuk talked about how important it is to make time for one’s kids and oneself.
Tymofichuk credits her successful career to her mentors along the way. “There is no way I could have done that without my mentors that helped me get to where I was and get me out of my comfort zone,” she said.
Finally, she said, perhaps the most all, be prepared to step up.
“Be open to raising your hand. If I hadn’t raised my hand and said I would deploy, I wouldn’t have flown in that plane in the Persian Gulf,” Tymofichuk said. “Raise your hand and things will happen because you are willing to step up.”