'There is room for all types of leaders'
Teresa King is a Product Engineer based in Seattle, Washington. Her story is part of a series about our Asian and Pacific Islander teammates who are making a difference at Boeing through their leadership and commitment to an inclusive workplace culture.
Teresa King started her Boeing career in 1991 on the team that made the 777 Stringer. She recalls being one of the only women, and the only woman of Asian descent on her team.
Since then, Teresa has spent much of her time leading product development teams including notable projects such as Boeing’s UV wand development as part of the Confident Travel Initiative. As an inventor with multiple patents, and who has submitted nine invention disclosures for Boeing, she is also helping to close the gender gap in invention disclosures. In 2021, for example, only about 14% of Boeing employees who submitted invention disclosures were women.
“I think one reason women tend to submit fewer invention disclosures is because they are holding themselves to an unnecessarily high bar. A disclosure can be submitted for any invention – whether it’s a groundbreaking idea or an improvement like a process enhancement.”
Teresa’s fascination with aerospace began at a young age. Her first time on an airplane was in 1975, at eight years old, when she flew on a military transport plane out of Vietnam. She was one of many refugees stranded at the airport before the military transport plane brought her and her family to a military air base on Wake Island, a small island located between Hawaii and Guam. Five years later, in 1980, she landed in the United States.
“As a kid, I wasn’t exposed to engineering. The only career path that many women took at the time was a flight attendant,” Teresa said.
Teresa decided to pursue her passion for aerospace professionally after a college advisor encouraged her to consider engineering. At the time, she was only one of two women at her school studying mechanical engineering.
When it comes to women and Asians in leadership roles, Teresa believes there is still much progress to be made.
“Throughout my entire career I have been asked to lead projects, which included leading large teams, but I was never asked if I wanted to go into management, and I noticed my colleagues of Asian descent have experienced something similar. I tend to be more introverted and don’t feel as comfortable asking for authority, and the employees being asked to step into management roles were often times more outspoken.”
According to research done by Harvard Business Review, Asian Americans are the least likely group to be promoted into management. This lack of opportunity can be linked to what is known as the model minority label. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, the term dates back to the 1960s and perpetuates the stereotype of Asian-Americans as hardworking, respectful, subservient – praise that has functioned to label them as good colleagues, but not suitable for leadership.
“The way I see things, you shouldn’t have to compromise who you are to fit a certain mold, and there is room for all types of leadership styles.”
While Boeing's 2022 Global Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Report shared improvements in representation for the Pan-Asian community across the board, as a company we are continuing efforts to accelerate representation gains for Asian and Pacific Islanders and other minority groups across all levels.
One way Teresa is helping address the representation gap for Asian women in STEM and leadership roles, is by mentoring senior students at her alma mater. She also feels it’s important to continue having difficult conversations about race, and believes Boeing has implemented many important efforts to advance equity, diversity and inclusion.
“I spent so much time at the beginning of my career trying to fit into a field that, at the time, was predominantly white males,” Teresa said. “I didn’t feel like I fit in. I overcompensated by ensuring I did everything myself and without asking for additional help.”
As Teresa has grown in her career, she embraces standing out when working with new teams, realizing it’s a more productive way to spend her time and energy.
“It’s important for leaders to continue to have tough conversations with their teams,” she said. “While these conversations can be uncomfortable, they help us learn to better understand one another."
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