Learn How to Say No — this is so important for our own sanity so we don’t bite off too much that we can’t handle things. Recognizing your own limitations is a critical skill and looks much better than saying yes and failing to deliver or delivering a poor solution.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Heidi Wright.
Heidi Wright is the General Manager of Technical Marketing at Braxton with over 12 years of engineering and business development experience within the aerospace industry. Since joining Braxton in July 2017, she has contributed as a Solutions Architect and the Director of Technical Marketing, leveraging her ability to interact with customers and evaluate their needs to create technical solutions of value. In her current role as General Manager, she develops and executes strategies involving the future of satellites in space, fostering collaboration with Government and industry partners, and marketing technical capabilities to deliver incremental solutions of value to customers.
Throughout her career, Heidi has worked in a variety of engineering positions across small business entities. Some of her work includes ballistic missile trajectory modeling and simulation analysis in support of the Missile Defense Agency, ground-based radar analysis for the intelligence community, and developing innovations in satellite ground system development for Braxton and the Air Force.
Heidi is the program manager and principal investigator for several Air Force contracts related to setting the standard for the next generation technology for Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) and revolutionizing the role satellites play in space as a warfighting domain. She maintains knowledge in a variety of subjects including satellite ground system design, systems engineering, modeling and simulation, and PNT technology, while promoting collaboration across multiple entities to produce a superior technical solution.
Heidi holds a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Auburn University (2009) and is currently pursuing an M.B.A from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs with a focus on Innovation Management.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Igrew up as an Air Force kid, so I was constantly around aircraft and the military. I was also always interested in space, astronomy, and anything I could build. My first job in high school was actually at an air and space museum in Hampton, VA, which was perfect for me! So, with that I went into aerospace engineering for my undergrad degree. Because I was living around so many military bases, there were excellent opportunities for internships all through high school, so I got to work at NASA a few times, and the Navy when I was in college. I didn’t get enough of the military life growing up, so I married an Air Force guy and have been following him around since, expanding my expertise and growing my career in the space industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I’ve been with Braxton about 2.5 years now, and the most interesting thing is the number of new things I’ve been exposed to in that short amount of time. I got to take lead on some very high visibility programs, which exposed me to pitching and presenting in front of investors, high ranking military, and other Government leaders. Every week at Braxton is like diving into a different swimming pool headfirst, which I love.
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?
I’m not exactly a comedian, so nothing really stands out for me as funny, but I’ve definitely made my fair share of mistakes! Everyone should! That’s the only way to really and truly learn. Be dynamic, own your mistakes, learn from them, and move on.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I get to work everyday with some of the smartest and most intelligent people I’ve ever met in my life. Not only that, but every project we work on feels like we’re changing the world in one way or another. If we empower our people to continue to do things that excite them without constraining them unnecessarily, there’s nothing they can’t do. One of our main differentiators is the ability to get things done on shoestring budgets and tight timelines, and the only way we can do that is because of our people. As a small business, I think Braxton is in a unique position to allow our people to create their own destiny and gravitate towards what they love.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I just successfully pitched at the inaugural AF Space Pitch Day in San Francisco and was awarded a contract to benefit our warfighters in the space domain, so a lot of my time is focused on getting that project up and running. We’ve also got a lot of other very exciting projects happening on the Catalyst Campus in Colorado Springs, interacting with all the different groups and organizations there, finding collaboration potential, bringing more tech jobs to Colorado Springs, and so many more benefits I can’t even quantify. We’re really contributing to an innovation ecosystem here, which has far-reaching implications at the local, national, and even global level!
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?
I think there’s always work to be done to promote women in STEM! We are seeing positive changes, but there’s always room for improvement. Starting the interest off young is the long-ball game, and maintaining that interest as they grow up is vital. There are many organizations who are focusing on this challenge, which is wonderful. But I honestly think one of the biggest and easiest things to change now is having enough support at the leadership level of companies and organizations to give women any opportunity they can. Having leaders within the organization, both men and women, that are aware of the imbalance of gender in STEM areas from the lowest level to the leadership level is important. The next step is for those leaders to understand the benefit the organization would gain from a diversity of thought, perspective, and innovative ideas.
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?
- Lack of role models like them — most of my mentors and people I look up to are men. No one really comes from the same demographic as me (age, gender, background, etc.), which makes it hard to have a female role model. This should get fixed over time as more women rise up the ranks.
- Respect — I have often found that to be taken seriously, women have to prove that they’re capable before they have respect. This is not always the case, but it happens more often to women than men. Even at technical trade shows and conferences, I’ve observed that men (who make up the majority of the attendees) tend to want to talk to the men instead of the women, if they’d never met before.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
It is possible to “have it all” including a family, a successful technical career, upward growth, and work-life balance. There are certainly some sacrifices that have to be made, but those sacrifices should happen for anyone in the workplace, not exclusively women.
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.)
- Take Initiative — people take notice of this, especially if you can deliver without them asking.
- Be Compassionate — people like working with people who care about them. This applies to both customers and coworkers.
- Listen, But Also Be Heard — it’s very important to listen, not just hear, what people have to say, but women also need to ensure that they are assertive enough to have their voice heard.
- Learn How to Say No — this is so important for our own sanity so we don’t bite off too much that we can’t handle things. Recognizing your own limitations is a critical skill and looks much better than saying yes and failing to deliver or delivering a poor solution.
- Fail Fast and Adapt — Only way to learn is to try, fail, learn, adapt, and try again
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Give your people a chance to thrive; push them and give them as many opportunities as you can to expand their capabilities. Match people to the roles they want to be in that complements their skillsets.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
- Set the example — be the leader you want your team to trust and mimic
- Listen to your team and their suggestions. Follow through and remove hurdles where necessary.
- Collaborate with the end user (internal or external) — if you get buy-in throughout the process, you’re more likely to achieve your objectives in the long run
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?
Apart from my family, who have always supported me, there are so many people throughout my professional life and career who have taken a chance on me, given me opportunities, and helped me get to where I am. What’s funny is that all of them have been men! Ladies, as we move up the ladder ourselves, we should absolutely pay it forward!
The most recent example I’d say thanks to is Ed Baron, one of the senior executives at Braxton. He has pushed me more than anyone ever has and empowered me to take ownership, proposing I take on these new roles that pushed me out of my comfort zone, even when I had little to no experience in that role — I said yes to the opportunities, and here I am. Thanks, Ed!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Many younger girls have started coming to me to ask my advice on how to navigate the tech world.
After I finish my MBA, I’d like to put more energy towards mentoring the next generation of women (and men) in STEM, giving back what was given to me with all the advice and mentorship I’ve received over my career.
Also, change starts at home. I have two little boys, so I’m raising them to be more inclusive of both men and women across industries and occupations from day one. They are growing up realizing that women are just as capable as men in many areas and that technical roles aren’t reserved for men. My oldest even tells me “Mommy, you’re so good at fixing things, just like Daddy.” That’s how I know there’s hope for our future.
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. 🙂
I think there is so much negativity in this world, that a movement to promote positivity, healthy relationship building, open communication, and compassion would be great! You catch more flies with honey than vinegar and relationships are a part of every person’s life: family, friends, coworkers, customers, and random people you meet on the street.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.
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 🙂
Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, would certainly be near the top of the list! Not only is he a fellow Auburn grad (War Eagle!), but he went from “Tech to Exec” and is successfully bridging the gap between his engineering background to running one of the largest technology companies in the world.