Lynette Nettles started her march toward a career in engineering in eighth grade.
Lynette’s parents—both with degrees in social services disciplines—recognized her unique strengths in math and science and enrolled their technically talented daughter in a high school that specialized in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) education.
After attending Purdue University and participating in its amazing Minority Engineering Program, Lynette graduated with a degree in electrical engineering. She then looked for a company that would appreciate what she had learned and earned through her studies and life experiences.
Now, Lynette, an embedded software engineering manager, attends campus recruiting events to share why it’s so important to work for a company that values difference and appreciates diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) – and how to know if you’ve found that company.
Diverse Women in Engineering
When Lynette joined Rockwell Automation more than 30 years ago, she was the first Black woman on her engineering team. Since then, the number of Black women engineers remains small: Only 20% of bachelor’s degrees awarded to women are in engineering and computer sciences, and only 6% of bachelor’s degrees in engineering are awarded to women of color.
While she was a minority at work, Lynette had a network of peers from college. Purdue is the birthplace of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and that’s where Lynette experienced the power of connecting with people of similar backgrounds who shared her technical passions. She’s maintained those relationships and talks to early career engineers about finding the right company.
“When I share my story, I am honest about the challenges and the successes,” Lynette explained. “People relate to this honesty and transparency.”
“We lose too many STEM-talented women in high school because they don’t have the support,” Lynette added. “That’s why it’s so important to find a company with the right culture, networks and organizations – like Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) – that will help you continue to develop as an engineer and as a person. Without those systems you can feel alone and unable to navigate your best potential career path, or bring your authentic self to work.”
For example, Lynette’s son, a university student, struggled through the pandemic and a lack of connection with minority engineering students, something Lynette hopes will change next year. “I can see the difference between my experience and his, and it’s all about finding a good network of people you relate to and can collaborate with,” Lynette said. “That applies at school and at work.”
Supportive Leaders Help Shape Career
Once at a company, it’s important to connect with people who can help shape your career, Lynette said, and to know that you have the support of managers and leaders.
“I’ve watched our company become more intentional about our culture and strengthening our commitment to DEI,” Lynette said. “In every position, I’ve had excellent managers who valued my differences, who treated me with respect and who genuinely wanted to help me succeed and grow. I appreciate how we continue to offer this to the next generation—and we only get better.”
A self-described compassionate driver, Lynette wants to get things done but never at the cost of personal relationships or family priorities.
Why should other makers join her at Rockwell Automation? “Your ideas are welcome here. We have a vision and a direction that will keep us relevant; how you contribute to that vision is up to you. You can try new things, move between businesses and teams, grow how you want to grow. This is a place where you can make valuable contributions in work that you like to do,” Lynette said.