CTT Group exec leads the way with innovation in smart textiles
Women in Electronics column explores diversity through women in the Canadian electronics industry
Throughout 2020 EP&T explores the topic of diversity in the industry through a series of articles called Viewpoint; stories designed to get readers thinking about gender equity in the engineering profession, allowing others to maybe see their surroundings through a new lens.
Justine Decaens, is the head of technological innovation – smart textiles at CTT Group, a centre of excellence in research, development and innovation in Saint-Hyacinthe, QC. She is responsible for managing all R&D departments including smart textile, technical textile, textile chemistry and 3D textile/composites.
1. How has your role or career path evolved over the years?
I was very lucky to have very quick evolution of my career path over the years. I had a few opportunities which presented themselves and were aligned with my professional objectives. I started at CTT Group as a trainee during my Bachelor degree and then as a student during my Master and began working fulltime as a project leader. Shortly after that, I became in charge of one of our research group for Smart Textiles and most recently took the lead place of the R&D department. Sometimes, it is a question of being at the right place at the right time and not being afraid to response to the challenge.
2. What is your message to female engineers seeking to take on leadership roles?
I think you need to accept the possibility of some gender imbalance and not take offense to that if you ever encounter a situation like this. You need to be confident, in your capacities and show initiatives. Never be afraid to ask for new challenges whenever there is an opportunity for you to show what you can do. By demonstrating your skills, you will gain respect from your superiors and colleagues regardless of gender.
3. What key words of advice do you have for employers seeking to create a supportive environment for women?
Do not differentiate! We do not need to receive any preferential treatment, as it would just create another form of imbalance and make it more difficult to gain respect from our male colleagues. Equal treatment and neutrality is the key to a balanced work environment.
4. How would you sum up the work/life balance advice you share with female engineers and their employers?
The most crucial point is the organization. When things can be planned ahead it is a lot easier to manage. Always leave time in your day for the “unexpected” which can be both urgent professional issues rising up which need to be dealt with immediately or personnel emergency. It is also important to have a good communication with colleagues so they are aware of the project you are working on or the client you need to meet with and you are never in a position of isolation where only you who can handle it. Having a substitution system is also very important for having more freedom at work.
Moreover, I may add it is important to have realistic expectation of the workload you can tackle during a day. You have to look at it as if you have 8 hours to do as much as possible, but at the 8h mark, that’s it; you need to go home. There will always be emergencies and everything that land on your desk is usually due for yesterday but you need to push back and accept that whatever is not fitting in today schedule will be taken care of tomorrow.
5. Industry employers and associations have set some goals to achieve when it comes to equalization of genders within engineering circles. How do you think imposed gender initiatives will help women in their field?
I, personally, do not think imposing quota related to gender equalization is a good initiative. Forcing companies to recruit a woman because her gender rather than her qualification is a mistake for many reasons : from a business standpoint obviously – you should hire whoever is the most qualify; from a social standpoint – it would make the acceptance of the new hire a lot harder among her new colleagues.
Initiatives based on the modification of recruitment process: no pictures, no name and/or modified voice (neutral digital voice) would be really interesting to look into rather than imposed quota.
6. What impact does the lack of female role models in higher level positions have on aspiring engineers or young women entering the field?
The lack of female role models may have a negative impact on our perception of our worth and may be limiting our career aspirations. Meaning we may not consider reaching a post of CEO for example as we would unconsciously associated as a man role.
On the other side, whatever positions achieved we did not think we would or could makes it even more exciting and become a bigger deal. It becomes both a professional and personal accomplishment.
7. What does diversity mean to you and why is it important for engineering?
To me, the diversity relates to social background and personal experiences: any travels, past work experience, any personal hobbies. Most of the inspiration you have in engineering (at least for me) comes from everyday life experiences. How you put them in practice will come from books and research but the conceptual idea will be inspired from your life. The more diversity you have, the better the ideas.