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“Allow your employees to make mistakes and learn from them” With Penny Bauder & Dee Hays

Allow your employees to make mistakes and learn from them. I think that’s a huge part of personal growth in life and in your career. It’s important to give your employees room to grow and set realistic expectations of them. Dee Hays is the Founder and CEO of Excellence Engineering, a full service engineering company […]

Allow your employees to make mistakes and learn from them. I think that’s a huge part of personal growth in life and in your career. It’s important to give your employees room to grow and set realistic expectations of them.


Dee Hays is the Founder and CEO of Excellence Engineering, a full service engineering company based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Dee graduated from Kansas State University and completed Harvard Business School’s OPM course in 2017.

Dee has over 25 years of experience in executive and business management, business development, detailed engineering, and project management for the utility sector and oil and gas industry. She is an advocate for women in technology and engineering.

Dee currently sits on the board of the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance, Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce, Governor’s Council on Workforce and Economic Development, and the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women.

Dee is also a member of the Women Presidents’ Organization, International Women’s Forum, The National and Oklahoma Societies of Professional Engineers, The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, The Society of American Military Engineers, The National and Oklahoma Societies of Professional Engineers, and the Oklahoma Heart Association.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up, my father was an engineer, and I saw him work on so many cool projects for NASA and the Air Force. Whenever he was at home, I was always his sidekick helping him on different things, whether it was working on the car or building something. Early on, I became really hands on and developed a passion for engineering and just seeing how things work. My dad helped lay a solid foundation for me as far as engineering and problem-solving go.

Right after I graduated from Kansas State, I started working for Williams in Tulsa. Later, I became the only female general contractor in Oklahoma who specialized in control systems. I noticed I would always be the last in line to get a phone call for a big project that others had already tried to complete. However, when my male competitors couldn’t get the work done, I was always proud to step in and finish the project successfully. Through those jobs, I was able to establish enough work and clientele to start my own company, Excellence Engineering, in 2001.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Through my involvement with the Women’s Presidents Organization and the growth of Excellence Engineering, I was able to receive a scholarship to Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management Program, or OPM. Graduating in November 2017 was one of the biggest highlights of my career and life, and I wouldn’t have received this opportunity if it wasn’t for the success of Excellence Engineering.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When it came to running my own business, there was a big learning curve for me. My expertise had been on the engineering side of things, so hiring employees and learning payroll, things like that were difficult at first. You kind of look back now and laugh at the things you did! I used to clean the building at night after working all day. Looking back, that probably wasn’t the best use of my time or money, but it’s what had to be done.

I was so used to working alongside my dad on projects that it never occured to me the engineering field would be so heavily male-dominated. I was definitely naive about it early in my career.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Not many engineering companies are led by women so I think that automatically sets us apart! I can tell you from my experience of usually being the only woman in the room, people always remember me.

At Excellence Engineering, I’m really proud of how we strive for perfection and are always pushing our processes to the next level. Our systems aren’t just okay, they’re better than our competitors and they’re more efficient. Our name, Excellence, speaks for itself, and I’m very proud of the work we do.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

When we design a facility at Excellence Engineering, we aim to exceed our client’s expectations. Our truck loading facility designs allow maximum performance for more product to go through. Speeding up this process eliminates the need for clients to store material, plus it gets to the market quicker. With better design practices, we are building Virtual Assets for our clients at Excellence Engineering.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

The industry climate for women in engineering has gotten better, but it’s not getting better fast enough. As many men who are embracing more women in this field, there are just as many who still aren’t.

I think change comes from a lot of angles. There needs to be better awareness for young women entering the industry, and I think mentorship programs can help provide a lot of insight to the climate they’ll have to face. I think we, as an industry, need to do more to hire and promote women, and not just because they’re women. When a woman is hired to fulfill a diversity quota, she enters the workforce with a label on her back. Women deserve an equal chance to succeed in engineering from the start, without labels.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

Engineering has historically been a man’s world, so I think the biggest challenge women face in STEM is being taken seriously. There is so much gender discrimination that occurs within engineering but no real process laid out for women to work through it. It’s a challenge for a lot of women to push past it and continue growing in a company, when they may not see themselves represented at the top. We need more women represented in leadership roles, management, board levels and as entrepreneurs in engineering.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

There are a lot of stereotypes and assumptions made about female engineers. People might think, “Oh, she wouldn’t want this job because she would have to travel away from her family,” or “It’s going to be too cold for her at the worksite.” Women in engineering deserve to make these decisions for themselves. There’s an idea that women can’t perform certain tasks simply because they’re women, but engineering is not a physical task; it’s brain power. There’s no reason at all why women can’t equally- or out-perform male counterparts in this industry.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

These are all things that I live by daily, and I try to manage my employees with the same concepts in mind.

1 — Aways work hard and do your best. You can never go wrong with good, hard work.

Engineering requires the ability to multi-task and pivot quickly to focus on key issues. Combined with the constant need for women to prove themselves in this industry, I think women inherently make better workers.

2 — Don’t beat yourself up! Give yourself room to make mistakes and learn from them.

Women are already our own toughest critics so it’s important to be kind to yourself, especially in this industry when there’s added scrutiny.

3 — Mistakes are okay. Fail fast and move on.

People think companies are smooth sailing and never challenged, but things happen every day. It’s all about how you react and grow from those challenges.

4 — Focus on the solutions, not the problem.

You’re going to make mistakes. You just have to pick yourself up and move on.

5 — Always take the high road. It’s a small industry.

I still get calls to this day from clients I had 10, 20 years ago who are still happy with my work. You never know who you might run into or have to work on a project with later on.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Allow your employees to make mistakes and learn from them. I think that’s a huge part of personal growth in life and in your career. It’s important to give your employees room to grow and set realistic expectations of them.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Ilike to say a company needs to have the right people, the right tools, the right environment and the right processes. If you have all of those things, that’s going to trickle down into your projects. I’ve seen the benefit firsthand at Excellence Engineering.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Iwill always be grateful for my father’s influence on me as a child and for really encouraging my love for math, science and engineering early on.

My gymnastics coach growing up, Elaine Mayfield, also had a profound impact on my work ethic and discipline. Elaine coached me from the time I was eight all the way through high school, and we still keep in touch to this day. I call her my other mother! She taught me how to have confidence in myself, how to speak with people and how to balance a busy traveling schedule with my practice. As a zoo biologist, she also worked in a man’s world when I was growing up, not that I understood that at the time. When you look at what she was doing as an athlete at that level, it’s very comparable to my position now in a male-dominated industry.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Asa business owner, it always warms my heart to see my employees growing their lives. Whether they’re having families, getting married, buying nicer houses and cars, it’s really nice to see my employees succeed.

I’m a huge advocate of getting kids involved in STEM early on and mentorship for women in the industry. Excellence Engineer provides internships to college students and participates in a program that allows local teachers to gain work experience at our facility to share with their students. I’m an active member of multiple boards and organizations in the Tulsa area and in the country that are dedicated to championing women in science and engineering.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Iwould want women to be given more opportunities because they deserve it, not because women need special treatment. Everyone is going to make mistakes, but I think we can all be kinder to ourselves and to one another. We all deserve an equal chance to succeed.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Ihave always loved the quote from Neale Donald Walsch, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” When you do things that are easy and comfortable, you can never grow. I have always been pushed to the edges of my comfort zone, but those are opportunities to really grow and achieve things you didn’t think were possible.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Iwould have to say Spanx CEO and Founder Sara Blakely! I think her ability to think outside the box and create such a successful, iconic company is terrific. I also know she’s a mom and gives back to her community, and I have a lot of respect for what she’s built.

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