Happy International Women in Engineering Day! Here’s Advice From a Leader in This Field

Sponsored by GE Power

Dayna Johnson

Photo courtesy of GE Power.

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Inventors and Innovators — that’s the theme of today’s International Women in Engineering Day, which is focused on celebrating the amazing work that women engineers around the world are doing to support lives and livelihoods.

What better way to celebrate than hearing from Dayna Johnson, the President-Elect of the Society of Women Engineers and a lead inventor and innovator herself. Johnson also serves as the Emerging Technology Programs and Operations Leader at GE Gas Power. In this role, what’s “most exciting for me is how many of our programs fall under ‘emerging technology,’” shares Johnson. “Working in such an expansive, interesting space means that I get to work with some of the smartest people around. It also means that no two days are exactly the same. Possibly my favorite part is that I have learned so much from all of the people I work with — and I continue to do so every day.”

At GE, Johnson is also empowered to be her best every day. “GE not only supports my passion, but encourages it,” Johnson remarked during a video interview. “Whether it’s through the accelerated leadership program, or I’m able to develop new skills and meet new people, or whether it’s the generous parental leave they give me to be with my kids — GE is always trying to make sure they provide the benefits, tools and opportunities to help me achieve my personal best.” 

And, when she’s not working with innovative and world-bettering technology at GE, leading the Society of Women Engineers, or being a mom, Johnson is celebrating other women and their achievements. For instance, she recently hosted a podcast with Sara Schonour, winner of Netflix’s Baking Impossible. “I was incredibly lucky to merge two of my passions — baking and engineering,” Johnson notes about this experience. (Johnson uses her passion of baking as a creative outlet to make themed birthday cakes for her two sons!)

“One of the parting pieces of advice that Sara left me with was that we are always in the right place for us, at that time,” Johnson recalls. “Wherever we are at, there is something to learn. I tell myself this during the very hard times. Even if everything feels wrong and I think I’m ready for change, I am there for a reason — to learn something I wouldn’t have otherwise.

In this article, Johnson reveals more about her work, being a woman in engineering and her best tips for her fellow (and soon-to-be) engineers.

Let’s start by talking more about your job. What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your work?

The most rewarding part of my work is knowing that I am constantly part of a cleaner energy solution. This has been the case for many years now, but knowing the challenges we have ahead of us in the energy space makes this even more crucial. On top of that, I work with amazing people — I’ve never met someone who wouldn’t help me understand something I need help with.

Outside of my day job, I am the president-elect of the Board of Directors for the Society of Women Engineers. Coming from an industry that has so few women, I love being able to support the mission of this amazing organization and truly hope I can make the field better for someone who comes after me.

How have you found your own passion, purpose and voice at work?

I am someone who has reinvented myself a couple of times over the course of my career! After taking a big step back and trying to determine what I really wanted to do, I realized there was a continual thread — I care about sustainability. As such, my career needs to reflect that passion to better our world, and I work hard to focus on how the things I do contribute to making this world better. This manifests in various ways, but remembering why I get out of bed every morning can drive some amazing actions!

What advice do you have for others who are looking for their passion or voice at work?

When you’re trying to find your passion, I recommend trying some different roles. See what flexibility your current company offers. Ask for a short-term assignment in a different group. See if your boss will support other side projects that give you exposure to different areas of the business or functions. As you work through these projects, you may find an area that is incredibly interesting to you —an area that gets you excited, that you can’t imagine not finding a way to support. Look for topics that energize you, then create a plan to integrate them into your life more!

What advice do you have for someone new to your industry?

Ask questions, learn and find the people who are willing to help you learn. When I reinvented myself by switching from water and wastewater engineering to working closely with electrical engineers, I could not have learned as much as I did as quickly as I did if I didn’t ask questions. I think this is so important every time you make a change — whether it’s changing industries, changing teams or changing functions, you will have so much to learn.

What people, resources and tools do you rely on to get on to attain work-life balance?

First of all, I often remind myself that work-life balance does not mean that you equally split your time between everything you do. Some days, certain things will be more important than others. I’ve found days where I absolutely need to finish something for work — those days, work is the most important. Then, there are days that I have a sick child at home — those days, family comes first (but I still squeeze in some work when I can!). There are some days that I know I need time to recharge — I’ll take a few hours off on a Friday afternoon and go shopping, watch a movie I love, or just relax. 

On a day-to-day basis, though, we use Google Calendar to help know where everyone is. We also made the decision to stay geographically close to our parents, which makes life so much easier if we need emergency childcare help.

As a leader yourself, what is your No. 1 piece of advice for women who are moving into or want to move into leadership roles?

Have faith in yourself. You didn’t get to where you’re at because you do everything the same way as everyone else. You have your own unique style; embrace it! Harness your strengths and trust they will get you to where you want to go.

Let’s talk about GE’s culture. What’s your favorite aspect of it, and how does your company help you succeed?

Even before COVID-19, my favorite thing about my company’s culture was the flexibility. I started a new role during COVID-19, which was located entirely remotely from the team I work with. It has been an amazing benefit that has helped me succeed both with my job and supporting my family. I work with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. 

However, what makes the culture great is everyone’s willingness to help out whenever I need it. To truly succeed, I see my team constantly help their coworkers out. None of us can do it alone, so the willingness to jump right in is extremely valuable.

Looking back on your career, what would you say has been your most valuable career mistake?

I had the incredible opportunity to join GE’s Accelerated Leadership Program. However, I received that offer with a four-day-old baby. I should have probably postponed making that decision (it is really hard to feel like you’re making any good decisions when you are that sleep deprived!), but I accepted the offer. I cut my maternity leave short by a couple of weeks to go back to work and start what I knew would be an intense two years. 

I wrestled with whether or not I made the correct decision regularly — especially when I was flying out of state and leaving my 12-week-old baby at home. However, when I finished the program, I felt stronger than I knew I could feel. I knew I had accomplished more than I thought I could have, my baby didn’t know I was gone and I came back to everyone alive and happy. I acknowledge that there are many people who wouldn’t have wanted this arrangement, but I grew so much because of a “four-days-post-partum” decision!

Want to know more about Johnson’s impressive career and her advice for leaders and working moms? Check out this article! And, if you’re a candidate interested in GE’s Women's Network and in joining GE’s talent community, you can learn more about that here.

You can also apply for open positions at GE Power via the link below.

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