Since Management Solutions is a woman-owned business and with this being project management month, we thought it only appropriate to shine a light on women in project management and share the story of one of the many women in our company making strides in this field. This month, we asked Laurel Mench, a certified Project Management Professional, to share her personal journey from fast-tracking her career to side-lining it for motherhood for a season.

Laurel started her career with Frito Lay® after graduation with a degree in industrial engineering from Penn State, one of the country’s top five engineering schools. She started as a supervisor in the processing department. Her team consisted of seven people and there was only one other female. She was 22 years old and the least senior person on the team had been working there longer than she had been alive. But as she shares, her team and the entire company were extremely supportive and today she still attributes many of the management skills she has learned to members of that team. She soon was promoted to a shift by herself and was moved to packaging where she managed a group of 40 people. During that time she got married and in order to further her career with Frito Lay, she would have had to move to Texas which simply wasn’t possible for her at that time.

As a result, Laurel got back to her roots as an industrial engineer and soon landed a role with Supelco as a material planner, working on projects and solving a lot of problems that no one had ever considered. During that time, she had her first child. The demands of the position began to weigh on her and her boss allowed her to go part-time for a season.

Upon returning to full-time work, Laurel was asked to serve as project manager on the company’s new product launches. “I just sort of fell into project management,” she recalled. “I loved working on things that needed to be fixed.” Laurel was really reaping the rewards of the hard work in her career at this point. She was running the entire project management department, reporting to the president of the company, and was doing a lot of strategic planning. Her second child had come along during this time and she had to make the difficult choice of either pouring herself into her demanding job or be the fully present mom she wanted to be. To her boss’s dismay she chose the latter. While it was a difficult decision she says, she has no regrets and in the 17 years since, she’s raised three great kids, two of which are now in college.

While motherhood became her full-time job, she kept her pulse on the industry. Many people told her no one would hire her after such a long hiatus, but when she decided to re-enter the workforce, she began attending some industry events where she discovered Management Solutions. CEO Misty Mayes, a mother of three herself was inspired by her story and invited Laurel to come for an interview. That was 18 months ago, and neither side has looked back since. Laurel now works with the team at the company’s new subsidiary, Project Controls Solutions and is so passionate about it because the program can absolutely change the course of someone’s life as she describes.

Her advice for young girls and women reentering the workforce is this: If engineering is what you are interested in, go for it and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Be who you are not what someone else wants you to be. If you want to wear a pink hard hat, do it, she added. She believes in the power of the support you get from others who help you further your education and career and is passionate about giving girls the opportunities to explore STEM subjects and careers. Laurel now donates to the school of engineering at the University of Tennessee to help further the education for women and minorities.