Q: What do you do for a living?
Cathi: I’ve worked as a teacher and school counselor for 25 years. Today, I work as a non-traditional career counselor for the Seattle School District. My job is to inform under-represented populations about potential high-wage professional opportunities. We have a responsibility to make sure our students know about these types of careers so they can be represented in the industry.
I focus on educating females about technology and engineering careers, and I also recruit kids for construction apprenticeships. In the course of my job over the last few years, I founded a local organization which has grown to international stature called I.G.N.I.T.E. (Inspiring Girls Now in Technology Evolution).
We’ve recently won a national award for IGNITE and I’ve written a book called “The IGNITE Tool kit” to teach anyone in the world how to replicate our program. IGNITE started in Seattle in 2000, and we’ve educated more than 10,000 girls about careers in high tech.
We currently have active chapters to all over Washington and in 16 counties in Idaho. We have new chapters in Oregon, California, Arizona, and now we’ve gone international with a chapter in Ghana’s capital city!
We are in the beginning stages and I expect more chapters to get on board more and more each week. You can learn more about our program and our successes at www.ignite-us.org.
Q: How did you come to be the founder of IGNITE?
Cathi: I believe in what IGNITE does. Girls don’t have a voice. I believe they are not really shown the opportunities that are out there for them. It’s my job to speak for them. To make sure girls get a chance to learn. I feel strongly about being a voice for the girls. It keeps me going. If someone doesn’t do it, the fields will never change.
So, I came up with the idea for IGNITE and contacted women in technology and engineering.
Our mission is to inspire girls to consider high-tech as a positive career choice. Students, parents, teachers and high-tech women volunteers from all over the greater Seattle area contribute to our success. There is a lot of support from many women in engineering and high tech who feel strongly that the fields need more females. I believe it will happen.
Q: What barriers have you experienced in your career and how have you overcome them?
Cathi: I believe as a woman that talking about the obstacles we’ve faced is important. It’s important for the next generation to know the challenges others have had to overcome before them. For me, I’ve always been very determined to be an advocate for young women in education particularly.
I come across strong and fight hard. And sometimes people aren’t as interested as I am. To get the industry and education to cooperate, I have had to keep persevering.
In life, we have to keep going. Sometimes obstacles make it hard and we feel like giving up. In my field, what I do is going against the culture. Some people feel we are giving girls special treatment. I see it as an education issue. There is an inequity and we need to speak up.
My job can be isolating and it is hard work to change the norm, to get more girls in science classes, to encourage girls to take more math. What I do to be successful in life is to gather people around me who are passionate about the same things I am. With IGNITE, I’ve found a strong community of women in the high-tech and engineering industries who support our work and support our girls with advice, information, and dedicated involvement.
Q: How do you manage to balance work and your personal life? Any tips?
Cathi: One of the most important topics that women can share is that it’s difficult to balance a work life and a home life. It’s a major issue.
Earlier in my career, I was working and going to school full time. It took me seven years to complete my graduate degree. It was so hard. I was commuting 120 miles a day!
I said to myself: I can’t run this way all the time. I need time for myself, my family, and things I enjoy. We want our lives to be balanced. I have had to fight hard to work against the culture, to work at home on my schedule, and to find what works for me. I quit my job in NY because I was wearing myself out, and I made a commitment to myself to live life differently.
I have to be a good role model. It is my number-one goal in life. I take care of myself. I get enough sleep. And I’m one of the only women I know who does this.
This is one of the most important issues that women face. We’re socialized to “take care” of everyone: our partner, our children, our home, and our job. Men traditionally have less to deal with; and women have most of the responsibility at home. I believe that women need to support each other more. To discuss the issue and share their stresses and solutions.
I want to create a company where people feel supported and cared for and nurtured. And where they feel they have a life. When I’m at work, I love it. When I’m not, I give myself whatever I need to live a balanced and rewarding life.
Q: Based on the lessons you’ve learned, what’s your career advice for women?
Cathi: We have to start helping each other and supporting each other. Women in the workplace should support each other. I’ve been successful in having a balanced life, but I had to fight for it. It’s not realistic that we can stop working. But I do believe we can create a balanced life for ourselves.
First, you need to find out what you need. Then you have to speak to it. If you are really working too much, you have to make a commitment to yourself to balance your life and work less.