AWS Holds Second Women in Welding Conference

The second American Welding Society (AWS) Women in Welding Conference was held virtually and focused on welding engineering.

AWS Publications | September 27, 2021 | AWS News and Calendar
Welding Digest ►  AWS Holds Second Women in Welding Conference

The second American Welding Society (AWS) Women in Welding Conference was held virtually and focused on welding engineering.


Lead photo: The conference brought together prominent female welding engineers. Pictured (from top left) is Event Moderator Nancy Porter along with Guest Speakers Andrea Orr, Karen Gilgenbach, and Pierrette Gorman.


Heralding more than 60 virtual attendees, the half-day Women in Welding Conference on August 19 showcased female welding engineers at different levels in their careers. This included retired, mid-career, and early career guest speakers. The following includes highlights from the guest speakers’ presentations.


Pierrette Gorman (Retired)

Pierrette Gorman, who recently retired, worked as a welding engineer at Sandia National Laboratories, a federally funded research and development center in Albuquerque, N.Mex. She began her talk by describing how, at the age of 40, she left her career as a seamstress and tailor to become a welding engineering student at The Ohio State University (OSU).

As a student, Gorman had to overcome many obstacles, including a 120-mile commute to the college and the realization that she needed help after being diagnosed with a learning disability. However, she refused to let any of that derail her.

“ . . . [I]f you want something bad enough, you do what you have to do to earn it,” she affirmed. “I wanted that degree bad enough.”

Despite the challenges, Gorman completed her bachelor’s degree. She advises young women who are considering majoring in welding engineering to ignore the naysayers.

“You need to go for it . . . Welding engineering has changed my life and had such a positive impact on my self-esteem,” she said. “Now I have a very comfortable retirement, and it’s totally because of welding engineering.”

Since graduating, Gorman has held several jobs as a welding engineer and advises young female welding engineers to do the following: 1) Introduce yourself as a welding engineer; 2) take credit for your accomplishments or someone else will; 3) build relationships with co-workers, including welders and technologists; and 4) face adversity with dignity, but don’t step aside.


Karen Gilgenbach (Mid-Career)

Karen Gilgenbach is the zone vice president at Matheson Tri-Gas Inc., Waverly, Neb., a supplier of industrial and specialty gases as well as gas-handling equipment. She started the presentation by detailing how father-daughter projects imbued her with valuable skills and confidence at a young age.

Gilgenbach went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering mechanics from Michigan State University, but after taking a welding class, she was left wishing she had specialized in welding instead. This instant love of welding led her to get a master’s degree in welding engineering from OSU. She advises others considering a major in engineering to do research into the different engineering disciplines before settling on one.

In addition to her current role at Matheson, Gilgenbach has held jobs with Linde Gas USA and Airgas Inc. Despite her many successes, she admits that she’s had challenges along the way, including feelings of self-doubt.

She credits the friends, mentorship, and advice she has gained from AWS Section meetings as being influential in guiding her throughout her career and helping her overcome challenges.

“It completely changed my career [and] changed my life,” she stated. “The AWS can make a difference in your life. No matter where you are, there’s gonna be an AWS Section, at least everywhere I’ve ever been, and I don’t think you’re going to meet any better people than at an AWS meeting.”


Andrea Orr (Early Career)

Andrea Orr is a research engineer at Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich. She kicked off her speech by sharing how her interests in engineering and cars stemmed from childhood, where she raced and repaired quarter midgets. Orr went on to pursue a bachelor’s in the discipline at OSU and explained how she took advantage of scholarships and completed internships with Honda and Ford.

Although it was not part of Orr’s original plan to attain a master’s degree as well, she changed her mind after working as a research assistant. Based on her experience as a female in a male-dominated discipline, she advises young women considering a welding engineering degree to develop their confidence.

“You’re typically the only female in the room sometimes, and a lot of people are going to question you, so you need to be confident that yes, you belong; yes, you fit in; and yes, you’re just as capable as anyone else in the room,” she insisted.

In her four years in the industry, Orr has learned many valuable lessons. To help other young women learn from her mistakes, she recommends they do the following: Take credit for your work, promote your accomplishments, share your knowledge, and advocate for yourselves.

“Being able to stand up for yourself and share your knowledge and your professional opinion is very important,” she said.


Keynote Speech

The keynote speech, titled Imposter Syndrome and the Confidence-Competence Paradox, was delivered by Bettina Bair and illuminated how imposter syndrome impacts the professional and personal lives of women. She defined this phenomenon as “. . . the persistent inability to believe that your success has been legitimately achieved. It’s the feeling of being a fraud . . . that everyone is smarter or better qualified.”

Fig.2-Sep-27-2021-12-15-02-35-PMKeynote Speaker Bettina Bair explains imposter syndrome during the second Women in Welding Conference.


Bair explained that imposter syndrome is usually experienced by those who actually are knowledgeable and accomplished.

“The paradox is that people who know very little about a subject don’t know everything they don’t know, and therefore they can have high confidence and very low competence,” she elaborated. “As you learn more [and] become more competent, you start to have a wider perception of what’s possible and you start to feel less confidence.”

Bair further stressed that women, particularly highly skilled and accomplished women, are at greater risk of developing imposter syndrome due to low self-esteem as well as sexism, racism, and criticism from others. However, she emphasized that imposter syndrome can be overcome. The first step is to acknowledge the feeling and analyze what could have caused it to arise.



The second virtual Women in Welding Conference provided a platform for welding engineers at different levels in their professional careers to share their professional history — including the challenges and successes — as well as advice for women trying to advance their careers. To learn more about this event, visit


This article was written by Katie Pacheco (associate editor of the Welding Journal) for the American Welding Society.