Alumna Anne Trobaugh Inspiring Women in STEM through Mentorships

Friday, March 04, 2022
A group of images showing Anne Trobaugh

Mechanical engineering alumna Anne Trobaugh formed the My Best Friend at Work social media site to help mentor and offer helpful advice to women in STEM who may feel that that they are alone in their tech career fields.

After two decades as an underrepresented individual working in engineering, Anne Trobaugh has established a sisterhood that’s encouraging women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to stand up, stand out and make a difference through mentorship and friendship.

The 2003 mechanical engineer alumna has formed My Best Friend at Work, an online tool to serve as an advisor, coach, cheerleader, and unwavering advocate to help women become more self-confident, address challenging work situations, and advance to their potential in STEM.

That advice comes from situations Trobaugh has realized in nearly 20 years in a variety of STEM roles, including test cell engineer, senior engineer, chief of staff to the vice president of quality, and deputy director of global quality. Along the way, she has encountered unconscious biases against women in technical fields – something she calls “a death by a thousand cuts.” These seemingly minor incidents or actions contribute to many women leaving STEM career fields.

“The best part of starting My Best Friend At Work was making sure that I walked the walk and did the things I was suggesting were necessary for fulfillment in my career,” said Trobaugh. “I preach about being visible, ensuring your personal brand matches your ambitions and always being confident. When I realized I wasn’t completely fulfilled in my own job, I looked at things from the lens of ‘what would I suggest to others if they were going through this?’”

In January, she and her family moved from the heart of Texas to the Washington, D.C., area where Trobaugh accepted a role as vice president of quality and customer experience with American Woodmark, one of the world’s largest cabinet manufacturers. Her previous work experiences were in heavy industrial equipment manufacturing.

Trobaugh stated, “Everyone has a different appetite for change and taking ‘big leaps’ means different things to different people. To me it means moving cross country for a new job. For others it may be speaking up in a big meeting. Whatever it is, I want to help emphasize that the downside of taking these big leaps isn’t negative and scary. There are learnings in all things.” 

That’s where My Best Friend At Work comes into play. It provides a social media sounding board for women in STEM to exchange conversations like they would with colleagues in the office: from what to wear on a multi-country trip to being prepared for a presentation to a company’s board of directors. Trobaugh has become a mentor to more than 50 women, most of them within the technical workforce.

“During the pandemic I had weekly FaceTime meetings with my real-life best friend at work. This helped me feel connected, forced me to talk about career goals, and other topics with respect to navigating a new work-from-home environment,” Trobaugh said. “I realized how helpful it was to have this outlet and wanted to provide the same for others. Research has proven that having a best friend at work keeps you more engaged, ultimately drives you to deliver a better work product, and thus be more successful in your job. I tested that model in a virtual way and found that the help from a best friend at work doesn’t need to come from someone within your company. I specifically set out to make sure the help I was offering was synonymous with a best friend. I wanted it to be accessible, fun and provided in a peer-to-peer format.”

Many members of Trobaugh’s own support system have come from her days at Rose-Hulman (2000-2003), which were in the early years after the college went coeducational. The group of successful alumnae get together often for video chats, do virtual workouts together, and celebrate birthdays and other special occasions. Late last year they were able to continue their annual in-person get togethers to share stories about life and work challenges, learn family updates, and enjoy a good meal – much like their days on campus.

Trobaugh said, “At Rose-Hulman, I was surrounded by amazing people, including so many female friends I lived with, took classes with, and did extracurricular activities with. When I took my first job after graduation, I was no longer constantly around my friends, and I missed that tremendously … I still miss those days of being surrounded by friends who became family and having that concentration of STEM female camaraderie.”

Trobaugh is a second-generation Rose-Hulman alumnus (daughter of 1977 mechanical engineering alumnus Jim Trueblood) whose grandfather John R. White (1947 mechanical engineering alumnus; major donor of the White Chapel) sent a letter to the Rose-Hulman Board of Trustees in 1977 to advocate for the admission of women to the college.

“Reading that letter from 45 years ago, I can see that we’ve come a long way in understanding that having a more diverse world is better,” she said. “I feel like the key for the future generations is to fully utilize everyone’s differences to make an inclusive world. I hope we move from a discussion of better representation for women in STEM to fully realizing and appreciating our gender differences.” 

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Five Leadership Lessons Learned from Being a Woman in STEM

From a recent interview with blogger Candice Georgiadis, Trobaugh offers the following leadership lessons she has learned from being a woman in STEM:

Dig Deep on Self-Reflection – Understand what you are good at, what you like and what you want concerning your job. The more you know about yourself, the better you can position yourself in the correct role and love what you do.

Get Visible – Becoming more visible at work can help accelerate your career success. Join a women’s affinity group, become a member of the company’s campus recruiting team, volunteer for project outside of your working group, and meet people outside of your direct line of command. Learn about meeting facilitation, communication with a broad team and event planning – valuable assets for your toolkit.

Communicate the Right Way – When leading projects, it’s all about communication. Make sure everyone is kept informed. Keep communications simple and straightforward. Personalize the messages and learn the ideal type of communication for specific situations and audiences.

Stop Using Diminishing LanguageInstead of saying “It was nothing,” “No big deal” and “No worries,” say “You are welcome,” “Thank you” and “I am proud of the work.” Eliminate using “just” as a descriptor (“I have just a few slides; I need just a minute”). Instead of “I think,” “I feel” and “I believe,” use “I’m confident,” “In my experience” and “I’m convinced.” People will see you as more confident.

Find a Mentor – Make sure you have a good mentor at your place of work. Mentors can help you find new roles, give insights into projects or initiatives that have the most visibility, and advocate for you when you’re not in the room.

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