Persevering under Pressure

Many working women can benefit from a periodic review of their task list to determine what is helping their careers grow, what can be delegated, and what can be pitched altogether.

In her feature article “Diamonds or Dust,” starting on page 54, SWE contributor Seabright McCabe compares the pressure women engineers find themselves under as they juggle careers and personal lives to the forces that churn out diamonds — those highly regarded symbols of strength and brilliance. Maybe it is true that what doesn’t defeat us makes us stronger.

But that doesn’t mean we have to tolerate undue stress and even career burnout. Women can take care of themselves in many ways before pressure turns to breakdown, and the first step is simply recognizing that you are, in fact, under duress. Yanet Borrego, a chemical engineer turned life coach, told McCabe that it took an actual panic attack, which she thought to be a heart attack, for her to realize something was wrong in her stressful career. “Everyone thought I was successful, but I didn’t feel fulfilled,” she said. The article profiles several women engineers at different career stages and the professionals who help them juggle the professional with the personal.

So, once you recognize the stress for what it is, what’s next? Ask for what you need, Borrego said. In some cases, that may involve changing jobs, but not always. It may be delegating work or pushing back on those small, extra tasks that can pile up. That’s what has worked for Alina Bartley, a member of the SWE editorial board, as she writes in her Reinvention article “A New Balance” Her column, which focuses on the special challenges faced by new parents, makes the point that when you’re juggling full-time work with caretaking, all but the most essential tasks have to go overboard. And that strategy isn’t limited to new parents. Many working women can benefit from a periodic review of their task list to determine what is helping their careers grow, what can be delegated, and what can be pitched altogether.

Other strategies for dealing with stress include talking with friends and co-workers — sometimes just being able to validate your feelings can help restore perspective. If you’re new in a work role and don’t know many people, that can be tough. But there are ways to create a reliable community at work even when you are new. SWE editorial board members Payal Singh and Nicole Woon, chair-elect, recommend in their Viewpoint article turning on your camera if you work remotely, finding common interests with others, and volunteering, among other steps.

The advice to turn on the camera is especially important for those who work primarily from home. Seeing friendly faces on the screen can remind you that there is a welcoming group of people waiting to support you. Yet, as more companies are requiring employees to spend at least a few days, if not every day, in the office, some people — especially introverts — find their stress loads increasing.

Interestingly, though, some introverts actually look forward to the personal interaction that’s inherent to being in the office. In their Life + Work article, SWE editorial board members Emily Carney and Marcie Mathis offer diverging points of view on returning to the office.

Finally, it may help to know that it is not just modern women who have experienced work-related stress. In her Scrapbook article, presented for the first time in this issue in an expanded format, SWE archivist Troy Eller English reveals that the women who led SWE in its earliest years dealt with the same issues our leaders deal with today. They sought work/life balance, time for their volunteer work, and greater membership engagement.

For those of you who add volunteer service to SWE to your other responsibilities at home and at work, SWE is forever grateful. It is your effort that helps SWE shine.

Laurie A. Shuster
Society of Women Engineers