Written by Greg Breining
Jane Lansing (CivE ’76) had nearly completed her degree in civil engineering, with plans to build dams and bridges for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, when she took “the obligatory freshman programming class that I put off for years,” she said.
“Then I fell in love—with programming, that is,” she said.
Her first job was working for Control Data as a software engineer writing programs to run water and wastewater plants.
“Programming back then wasn’t hot or cool. I had a lot of angst about taking it,” Lansing said. “But it was the smartest thing I ever did. It was something I loved. I think I got to where I am today because I did things I loved.”
In 1984, she decided she wanted to get into the marketing and business side of things. She found an opportunity at Emerson as a control system marketing engineer.
She felt the awkwardness of being one of the very few women in her industry. “The engineering workplace is not particularly friendly or welcoming in a way that’s natural—because it’s just not your environment. It’s an environment that’s defined by others. So you spend a lot of time figuring out how to fit into an environment defined by others,” she said. “I spent the first several years trying to fit in. But if you go through your whole career that way, you’ll end up kind of leaving part of you at home—not contributing.”
Her turning point came during a psychological interview. The analyst said she appeared to be far more committed to the goals of the organization than to her own. “The analyst asked, ‘What do you think is the profile of a leader?’ I said, ‘I think it’s exactly that, you know, committed to the organization.’ He said, ‘No, it’s exactly the opposite,’” Lansing recalls. “That was a light bulb moment. It made me understand if I am not bringing something unique of myself, I’m actually not moving the organization forward, which is good for the company. It’s also better for me.”
So she began journaling. “I needed to figure out what drove me,” she said. “What gave me energy? What sucked energy away?”
As a result, she changed direction. She took a job in Emerson’s Netherlands office as the company’s marketing director for Europe. “I just started moving down a different career path,” she said.
Lansing says it’s important for women to find their way in an organization. “There’s a lot of data that shows if you’ve got teams that are half men and half women, they’re significantly
more creative,” she said. “I think women bring a sense of collaboration that is really important to innovation and problem solving.”
To help retain women, Emerson has a very active Women in STEM organization and supports industry events for women. It also has a mentoring program specifically for women.
“I’ve mentored young women and had people informally come and talk to me. I also think women being present, being themselves, being natural in the environment is as important as formal one-on-one mentoring. I often say one of my goals is to be a girl at work—girl in air quotes,” Lansing said. “I want to wear my job like a comfortable jacket. I don’t want to be in a job that doesn’t fit me, and I don’t fit it.”