Last year, our profile of Tiffany White described her many roles on the board of Women & Hi Tech, including Director of K-12 Programs, Vice President, President, and Past President. When we asked her why she has stayed so committed to involvement as an emeritus board member, her answer was simple: “Women & Hi Tech is my tribe.” She then elaborated a little. “When I first entered the engineering field, I was working in an all-male organization. There were very few female engineers and none in my peer group. Then I tried Society of Women Engineers, but found the membership skewed younger than me. They were very nice people, but I wanted to connect with people at my level—women who are currently executives and leaders in STEM. I found that at Women & Hi Tech.”
Tiffany is the Head of Engineering Operations in Rolls Royce’s Defense Sector. She has worked at Rolls Royce for over 26 years and credits the confidence and leadership skills she learned with Women & Hi Tech for helping her achieve several promotions. “I have been so impressed with the way Women & Hi Tech has adapted to the virtual landscape of 2020—some of the ideas and tech we have used at networking events, I have turned around and used at work with my team,” she celebrated.
Tiffany describes the engineering sector, especially defense engineering, as one of the many established industries making pivots to achieve digital transformation. “We used to design things on paper, or even throwing Excel files back and forth to each other. Now we are writing apps and using data digitally,” she explained. “We are putting sensors on aircraft engines—or also trucks, ships, and cars—that send real time info back to an app or to a central hub where we can diagnose issues with machinery. Whether it’s on the fly or certainly at maintenance intervals, we can see trends and schedule early intervention before things break.”
All this disruption comes with an increased need for cybersecurity to keep pace with innovation. “Once you are moving all these electrons around, someone intentionally or unintentionally wants to do something it wasn’t intended for,” White observed.
Tiffany believes that the key to overcoming barriers and creating the best products possible is diverse collaboration. “The ability to have diversity in any team makes you be innovative and stops you from groupthink. Whether it’s gender diversity, racial diversity, socioeconomic diversity, or even cross-functional groups within the organization, different voices help us make a better product because we are fully exploring requirements and what could go wrong.” However, she added that this is true of any team, in any industry.
“In aerospace and defense specifically, seasoned professionals like me are suddenly doing very new things. How do we design an engine digitally, and how do we then test that engine sufficiently in a digital environment? How do we protect our designs, innovations, and extremely sensitive consumer data from cybercrime?” Tiffany said that age diversity and being willing to listen to newer members of the team who have digital skills is essential to achieving these goals. “We have to not only hire but also train and restructure in ways that allow new technology to come in and be leveraged in the best and most efficient ways for our end users.”
Tiffany concluded that nothing is stopping change. “No matter what the industry, at this point we all know we have no choice but to adapt to technology,” she said. “But at the same time, my team are working with products that have 50-year lifecycles. For some of our projects, it’s like trying to put an automatic transmission in a Model T. Not just challenging, but expensive and time-consuming.”
Overall, there is alignment between what Tiffany wants for her industry and what she envisions for members of Women & Hi Tech. “We all need tools to become better versions of ourselves,” she explained. “As we find and learn to use the tools that work best for us, we grow and achieve more.”
“Women & Hi Tech is a place where women don’t need to be on the board to find their tribe and peers. In fact, this year we have learned we don’t even all need to be together in person to have a sense of connection,” she said with amazement. “The fact that we had the same rich interactions in all our virtual events has been literally incredible. And it inspires me to have confidence in all aspects of the new digital world that is getting bigger every day.”