Despite notable strides toward gender equity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields over the last decades, more work needs to be done to address the underrepresentation of women in these industries. In 2023, the gender gap in STEM was still considerable, with women comprising only 28% of the STEM workforce.

Nuvera engineers and leaders Kara Kites and Katia Franchi provide insights into their journeys in engineering, explore the qualities of successful engineers, and delve into the value of mentorship and career development initiatives for women in the field.

Fostering Connections

As part of Hyster-Yale Group (HYG), which employs 8,600 people worldwide. Nuvera employees have access to multiple resource groups including the Hyster-Yale Group LEAD program. This multi-phased development program is designed to empower women by enhancing their knowledge to make a business impact, broaden their influence, and advance their careers.  The program incorporates a variety of components such as targeted skill-building exercises, simulations, and case studies, as well as mentoring and networking opportunities.

So far, seven Nuvera employees have participated in the program. Kara Kites, Nuvera’s manager of engineering development, says her participation in the 9-month LEAD program was instrumental in establishing connections with other women leaders and engineers.

“We were able to open up on a more personal level,” said Kara. “Participating in the program made me recognize I work for a company that genuinely values women. The LEAD program demonstrates the organization’s commitment to supporting women in our career paths in an industry where they are underrepresented. It made me realize I work for a company that truly cares.”

Every month, the group convened for two sessions, each centered around a different area of focus. Kara explained that these sessions included a mix of readings, group lectures featuring keynote speakers, and small group activities. These typically consisted of two to three women, fostering a highly personalized experience for Kara that facilitated the development of close relationships with other colleagues throughout the program. These relationships not only provided valuable professional connections but also formed a supportive network where colleagues could share insights, offer assistance, and bolster each other’s growth and success.

The LEAD program also helped Kara, the manager of a group of four engineers, develop her confidence as a leader. Currently, Kara’s team at Nuvera’s headquarters in Billerica, Massachusetts is spearheading the development of Nuvera’s next-generation fuel cell engine. Kara and her team are working hard to make sure the first prototypes are operational on schedule.

Finding Career Satisfaction in Sustainable Technology

Kara has always aspired to dedicate her career to building things that will positively impact the world. This desire grew even stronger after having children, increasing her focus on contributing to a better future for the next generation. 

“Someone committed to tackling tough issues that face our environment is well-suited for a career in the clean energy industry,” she noted. “Knowing that I’m going to work every day to develop a technology that will have a positive impact on the world is something I take great pride in.”

Katia Franchi, another engineering manager at Nuvera and the leader of the company’s product and service functions in Europe, graduated with a degree in chemical engineering. She began her career in the R&D department of DeNora, a fuel cell technology company in Italy, which later became part of Nuvera. Initially hired as a process engineer to improve stack technology and testing, her 29-year career with Nuvera has encompassed different functions including material selection, testing and project management.

 “Fuel cells were considered very advanced at that time, so it was a unique opportunity to work on something that would help shape the future,” she said. “Bringing a product from research to launch in the market is very rewarding, and since the beginning I’ve been extremely motivated by those who have a shared passion for what we are doing.”

Thriving with Mentorship and Career Development Katia now manages a team of six Nuvera colleagues.  She believes the key skills essential for an engineer’s success include curiosity, troubleshooting, and collaboration, along with effective listening and decision-making abilities. “Empathy tends to be a strength for many women,” Katia asserts “and is crucial for effective collaboration.” Katia draws on this capability to instill motivation within her team, actively seeking to understand how to help others grow and leverage their individual strengths and skills.

Katia acknowledges there are external obstacles for women in STEM that derive from social and cultural habits and stereotypes. ‘I strongly feel women first need to increase self-awareness of their competency,’ she said. Katia’s advice for women in STEM is inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s wisdom. Embrace challenges, strive valiantly, dare in the pursuit of a career path, and credit those who courageously face adversity in the arena of life. She advises women to stand up confidently, express their point of view with clarity, and seize opportunities with courage.

For Kara, the LEAD training program served as a platform to connect with women who shared similar opportunities and challenges in their work life. These connections allowed her to join with like-minded individuals and recognize that “the imposter syndrome” is a common experience faced by many women in the technology industry. “You’re here for a reason, other people aren’t better than you, and you have to focus on the strengths you bring rather than dwelling on the negatives,” said Kara. “It’s very common to concentrate more on the inner critic than to have confidence in yourself to realize the value you bring to your team. That’s an insightful lesson I wish I had learned earlier.”

Kara considers herself lucky to be part of organizations that value women in engineering. Like Katia, she acknowledges that although the gender bias persists in STEM and other sectors, substantial progress has been made. Reflecting on her academic journey, Kara notes that when she graduated with her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, she was one of 6 female students out of a total of 70. Six years later, when she completed her master’s degree, the number of graduating women had almost doubled. She is encouraged to see more women enter the field year after year.

Early in her career, Kara discovered that the best engineers and leaders actively listen to others. Whether it’s absorbing input from fellow engineers, technicians, field service representatives, or other colleagues, being open to diverse perspectives leads to better outcomes. She added, “A mix of creativity, passion, resilience, critical reasoning skills, attention to details, and communication are also key attributes that allow engineers to do their best work.”

Coming out of the LEAD program, Kara believes more strongly than ever in the power of mentorship and self-development. Her advice for other women pursuing STEM careers: have confidence in your abilities, stand by your values, advocate for yourself always, and seek out mentors who will help you in your career journey.