Today is International Women’s Day (IWD) – a global day dedicated to celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political accomplishments of women. Despite the barriers, women are at the forefront of pivotal innovation, amplifying their voices and taking on leadership roles like never before.

At Itron, we are fortunate to have strong, talented women that make up our team across the globe. In honor of IWD, we caught up with Katrina Polk, VP of product management for Networked Solutions, to learn about her journey in tech and celebrate her achievements.

Tell us a little bit of your background and how you got into the tech industry?

I graduated from college with a degree in Electrical Engineering from Clemson University. While finishing my degree, I really had no idea what specific field I wanted to pursue. I knew I didn’t want to go down a traditional engineering path and do lots of design, but would rather pursue an opportunity that would give me the ability to engage with people more regularly. Through my internship with Itron (formerly Schlumberger) I was able to exercise my technical muscles while engaging with customers as an application engineer in the product management group.

What made you pursue a career in the tech/energy field and what is the path you followed?

I fell into the energy field by necessity to gain some real-world experience before graduating from college. It just so happened that Itron had an office close to campus and through my Engineering Society (NSBE), I was able to make some connections that helped me secure an internship. My intention was not to work in the space longer than three years, but after more than 20 years I still find myself learning something new and working with an industry filled with amazing people.

What is your current role at Itron now and what was your pathway to that position?

Currently I am the Vice President of Product Management for our Networks Solutions business. I started my career in product management as an application engineer and spent most of my career serving different roles in product management. I spent a couple of years in R&D as a program manager before returning to a product management role. 

What has been your experience as a woman in a male-dominated field?

For me, it has been a pure pleasure. Working in a male-dominated field – and even more specifically a field like the energy space – there are a lot of situations where you can find yourself in front of a room full of men in which you have been asked to lead a discussion or be presented as the technical expert. I always look forward to those opportunities as it gives me a forum to prove that women are just as capable as anyone else and that as a woman, I could hold my ground in any situation. Over my many years, I was able to earn the respect of many and learn a lot from many more. 

How have things changed – or not – since you began your career?

Since starting in the industry more than 20 years ago, I am happy to say the number of women in this industry has grown tremendously. Not only are there young women entering the industry, but there are many more woman leading businesses in our industry. The number of women at the executive level across many companies in our industry is growing every year and it is very reassuring that women have solidified our place in this industry.

Many fear for the impact of COVID-19 on matters of gender equality. Do you have concerns about the pandemic impacting tech industries in this way?

On the contrary, when I think of how COVID-19 has impacted the workplace, I think it has created an opportunity for companies that may not have happened before. As most companies were forced to have a remote workforce through most of 2020 and into 2021, I think it has been a study of the impacts of remote workforce on any business. As a woman with children, it is hard for me to believe that anyone is better at multi-tasking than a woman. COVID-19 created the environment for women to flex those muscles and I believe the experiment was a huge success. What I think it taught us is that we can still be highly productive in remote workspaces which then creates a path to explore a workforce that is more diverse without restriction of geography. On the flip side, I think it is more important that companies make diversity and inclusion a core part of their cultural tenants to reinforce the importance as it can become difficult to be sensitive to the needs of others with more people working remote.

What should we do to help more women get a seat at the management table?

As women, we need to find opportunities to prepare the women behind us so that when opportunities arise, we can make sure that there are candidates available to be included in the discussion. It is hard to get people to the table if there isn’t a bench ready to step up. We must help encourage young women to pursue careers in tech, mentor those starting to enter the workforce and create a safe space for them to flourish and grow.

What advice would you offer young, aspiring women interested in tech?

Be fearless! You may be a unicorn in your industry, in your company or in your group, but you are the first of many to come. Seek knowledge, seek counsel and know your worth!

At Itron, we will be celebrating #InternationalWomensDay and women’s accomplishments all month long. Be sure to check back for more women empowerment posts and join the #choosetochallenge conversation on Twitter.

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The Itron Team