ORLANDO, Fla. – JoAnn Newman remembers that first day on the job in 1980 when she began her engineering career with AT&T building microchips.
“It was a big bullpen, and there were probably 40 engineers all at desks—open air, no cubicle or anything—and they were all men, and I was the only woman in that department,” the now CEO and President of the Orlando Science Center said of her journey working in a male-dominated industry.
Newman, a graduate of Purdue University, said her mother inspired her to believe in herself.
“She always told us girls, I’m one of five and I’m one of three sisters, and she always told the girls especially, you can do anything you put your mind to,” the mother of two recalled.
She also said her older brother, an engineer, gave her the motivation to pursue a future in engineering.
“He influenced me tremendously, kind of sat me down and he was like, ‘I think you know, you’re good at these subjects. I think you can do this,’” Newman said.
Newman recalled having to work harder to prove she could do the same job as her male co-workers.
“It was intimidating for sure, and I think, the feelings I remember pretty vividly are just, ‘I don’t fit in, I don’t belong’ and I remember the strong desire to assimilate to be like they were. To not be who I was,” she said.
After 22 years as an engineer with AT&T, Newman moved on to the Orlando Science Center in 2003, where she was Director of Operations and held several executive leadership roles.
“I love the work that we do and the ability we have to change lives in the community,” she said. “It’s honestly been a real honor to be a part of this group of people. We have an amazing team.”
In 2009, she was named CEO and president of the center, spearheading diverse programs to inspire young women and nurture a culture of inclusivity, equality and diversity.
“We have a tremendous focus and effort about reaching out into the community and working with all of our children, inspiring young girls and people of color,” the Pennsylvania native said.
Her message to those young girls inclined to be the next engineers?
“You deserve to be there, and we need you there. We desperately, in terms of the whole field, need the diversity of thought, the diversity of input. We need more women in these fields. Sometimes things are a little tough but don’t give up, don’t give up, persevere.”
In 2017, Newman was named CEO of the year by the Orlando Business Journal.