By Joan Runnheim Olson
Karen Purcell is a great role model for women considering a nontraditional career. I recently had the opportunity to interview her and below she shares her path into a male-dominated career.
1) Could you provide a little background on your career path?
I have B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Widener University. Shortly after graduation I went to work for a small electrical engineering consulting firm in Las Vegas, NV. The firm provided electrical designs (lighting, power and communication systems) for commercial buildings. At the present time, I am the owner, president and principal of PK Electrical, Inc. located in Reno, NV. PK Electrical provides electrical engineering, design and consulting. I am a licensed P.E. (professional engineer) in 12 states. I have been in this career field for 23 years.
2) How did you decide on your career choice? Did someone in high school encourage you to pursue a nontraditional career?
My high school physics teacher suggested that I try engineering since I did well in both science and math. My first response was to ask him what engineers did. He replied that they can do anything. I was hooked from that moment on. I was very lucky to have his support and encouragement. If it wasn't for him, I am not sure if I would have chosen engineering.
3) What challenges have you encountered being in a male-dominated field?
As an engineer and business owner I face some very unique challenges. I find it interesting that when I go out to a job site with one of my male employees often I am looked on as the assistant and not the engineer. It isn't until I open my mouth with an intelligent response that they realize who the engineer is and who the assistant is.
4) What have you done to help overcome those challenges?
Having a strong support system has helped me immensely. I have a very supportive family that provides the love and encouragement that I need. I am also a member of various organizations. One of those is EO (Entrepreneurs Organization). I became an active member of the organization. I feel empowered by the other EO members. Extra activities and hobbies are also important. I am a runner and part of a relay running team. It is great to feel as part of team outside the office.
4) Describe a typical day on the job.
Every day is different for me. Some days I attend meetings with clients, work on marketing, review electrical designs or write proposals. The only constant is my daily morning run.
5) What is the salary range for work such as yours?
It is $100,000 to $200,000.
6) How do you use math, science and computer skills in your job?
We are constantly using engineering calculations in our designs. For example, maybe we need to determine the electrical service size of a building. We have various mathematical formulas that we use to figure out the size. Building lighting calculations are performed using computerized software with information that we input.
7) How did you move up in your career?
I had to develop and expand my self-confidence. I was not afraid to ask questions and take calculated risks. I am a forward thinker and mover. I stand up for what I believe is correct. I am always playing to keep the lead.
8) What advice would you give to females who may be considering a nontraditional career?
1. Do your research. Understand the challenges that you might face. 2. Maintain confidence. 3. Seek out a mentor.