Luana Iorio had never met an engineer, much less a female engineer, until she stumbled upon a demonstration at a high school career fair. It was a short presentation, but in just a few minutes, a young college professor influenced the course of Iorio’s career with her own passionate description of what it means to be an engineer.

As the CFM Services Engineering General Manager, Iorio is working to solve aerospace challenges that make a true difference in people’s lives, in addition to being a passionate advocate for women in engineering herself now.

“For as grateful as I am to be an engineer, it’s disheartening that women and people of color are very under-presented in this discipline that I love,” she says. “It’s sobering that the percentage of women working in the engineering profession today is barely different compared to what it was two decades ago.”

This International Women’s Day, we sat down with Iorio, who was recently named GE’s Global Women’s Network Co-Leader, to discuss some of the barriers facing women in engineering and STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

International Women’s Day has been celebrated for over 100 years. Why is it still relevant?

It’s been over a century and yet we are still far from achieving gender parity. At the current relative pace, gender gaps could be closed in 52 years in Western Europe, 62 years in North America, and 69 years in Latin America and the Caribbean. For the rest of the globe, the gap will persist for another 100 years. Today is a call to action to accelerate change and to challenge everyone to #BreakTheBias. While each and every one of us has our own biases, these biases blind us to seeing the capability and potential in others, we make assumptions and discount other’s experiences. We all have to commit today to #BreakTheBias.

How do you overcome bias as a female engineer?   

Early on in my career, I faced biases around both gender and age, some of which I did not completely recognize until much later. For me, the most powerful motivator to work hard and be successful has been when others have doubted my capability or questioned whether I was in the right field or had enough experience. Their reservations made me all the more determined to prove them wrong!

What advice would you offer young engineers? 

Recognize that what makes you different from the rest of the team can be a strength. Diverse teams are better at solving challenges so embrace that difference and don’t try too hard to blend in.

You discovered engineering by chance, how did that happen? 

I feel very fortunate to have found engineering. It was by sheer luck that I stumbled upon engineering and my field of study in materials science and engineering. I hadn’t even met an engineer before I chose this field for my undergraduate studies at the University of Witwatersrand in my native South Africa, but I was 100 percent sold from my first classes.  Engineering has given me a career and opportunities beyond what I could have imagined as a high school senior. Since engineering found me by chance, I embrace every opportunity to promote engineering to middle and high school students so that the next generation of engineers can be encouraged early on. The world needs more engineers and especially more diverse engineers if we’re going to build a world that works.

You’re very passionate about promoting engineering to the next generation. What are some of the programs you’re active in?

My passion for helping inspire future engineers is why I am proud to work for a company that is actively working to create more diverse engineers through the Next Engineers program and why I serve as a member of the Board of Trustees for iSPACE. iSPACE is a STEM outreach organization here in Cincinnati that reaches tens of thousands of children each year with the hopes of igniting a passion for Science and Technology so that all learners are prepared to thrive in tomorrow’s workforce.