March is celebrated across the United States and Internationally as Women’s History Month. The monthlong event is a chance to recognize and celebrate the contributions that women have made to history, culture and society.
March has been an exciting month for women at INL: three employees—Amy Lientz, Denise Stephens, and Catherine Riddle—were recognized by the Idaho Business Review as Women of the Year, and March 8 was celebrated as International Women’s Day. On March 10, over 150 eighth-grade young women were welcomed to explore the possibilities that a STEM education and career could afford them at My Amazing Future.
As March draws to a close, three female INL employees share their perspectives on working at INL over the past decades, at the present time and looking toward the future.
Mary Dee Grimm
Mary Dee Grimm is the business manager for Facilities and Site Services and Laboratory Protection, and is INL’s longest-serving (continuous) employee. There was a time, however, when she almost went to work somewhere else.
“During that first summer at INL, Mountain Bell called me and asked if I would be interested in working for them,” she recalled. “I don’t know why I chose not to—Mountain Bell was a premier employer and was located in Idaho Falls, rather than at the Site, which is where most INL employees were when I began work at the lab. I feel fortunate that I stayed at the lab, though. I have always loved my work here and the people I worked with and for. I established many enduring friendships at INL. Everything was always moving, changing, and developing … just like today.”
Over her tenure, Grimm has seen changes of all kinds and at all levels. “When people hear you’ve worked in one place for so long, there might be the tendency to think nothing’s changed,” she said. “There has been colossal change, such as numerous INL contractors, rapid technology advancements and the growth of the INL mission and recognition. Even women’s workplace apparel has changed. When I began working, women didn’t wear pants to work back then – you had to wear a dress or a skirt, and heels were the accepted footwear. Yes, I wore miniskirts, too. That was the thing.”
Career advancement opportunities for women at INL were fewer when Grimm began working than they are today. She has witnessed—and been part of—a dramatic change that saw women advance into management, then into higher and higher positions in management. Grimm herself was one of those pioneers, and said that though changes this large can be difficult, INL made this change gracefully and professionally.
“I have never felt any negativity from males,” she said. “By far the majority were more than supportive of my career, which is good. INL offered me the chance for a good working relationship and career. It allowed me to grow and advance in my career, and that was very satisfying. INL has been good to me.”
Looking back on more than 50 years of service, Grimm said, “I thank the INL and leaders over the years for giving me an once-in-a-lifetime chance to exhibit what I could contribute.”
When she joined INL in 1991, Carol Mascareñas worked as a project engineer on the cleanup side. Now, after more than 25 years of service, she serves as the director of Environment, Safety, Health and Quality and is one of three women on the INL Senior Leadership Team.
As she assumed positions of greater leadership, Mascareñas has enjoyed valuable mentorship from both men and other women. “The Lab has a good program in developing leadership,” she said.
Over the course of her career, Mascareñas has held a number of positions for a variety of contractors, but her early experience with budgeting, planning and controls served as a crucial development opportunity while she was groomed for other management roles.
Though the path to holding a senior leadership role was not always smooth, Mascareñas was supported by her colleagues and supervisors at INL. “I had faith in the lab leadership and the commitment that they made to my development,” she said, “and they followed through.”
Over her years at the lab, Mascareñas has seen a general improvement in fostering the careers of women, including increased efforts to provide development opportunities, the creation of employee resource groups and chances for members of the Senior Leadership Team to play management champion roles for these groups. “I see more women in leadership now than when I began, and more recognition of women in research.”
Mascareñas herself contributes to this growth, and has mentored a number of other women in leadership through the Laboratory Operations Leadership Academy.
She also continues to champion the furthering of women in STEM. When she spoke recently at the My Amazing Future event, she reminded over 150 girls that anything is possible. “I would encourage you to break barriers,” she said.
Though she is new to INL, Roya Gordon is putting six years of experience as an intelligence specialist in the Navy to good use as a Control Systems Cybersecurity analyst.
When she was earning her master’s degree in international relations and national security studies at Florida International University, Gordon chose to do a capstone on cyberwarfare in support of the military’s U.S. Southern Command, a project that made her especially qualified to support INL’s National and Homeland Security group.
“I am in a STEM field without necessarily having a STEM degree,” Gordon said, “but I think that sends a strong message that practical experience plays a part in pushing past stigmas and pursuing your dreams. This is another way that women are breaking barriers in the future; we are finding other avenues to success!”
Gordon is no stranger to breaking barriers. For instance, she was one of only two women in a 50-person training group. “I don’t know female mentors in this field,” she said. “That is something that definitely is lacking.”
Though encountering negative assumptions can be an unfortunate reality of working in a male-dominated field, Gordon said it also serves as motivation. “If I say I work with computers, people sometimes assume I do data entry. That’s very frustrating. But it makes me want to prove a point even more. It makes me want to push harder.”
Gordon would also like to see other women taking positions in her field. “I’d like to see women being encouraged to be in intel instead of shying away because they’re intimidated,” she said.
Since joining the lab in the fall, Gordon has been generally impressed with outreach efforts to mentor young women in STEM. She was recently featured in a My Amazing Future video with a number of other women in STEM from around INL, and said, “I like that INL is reaching out to young women. That’s going in the right direction and I’m glad INL has that culture.”
For more information about Women’s History Month: