ASHLEY GANN, the chief meteorologist, pageant queen and aerospace engineer
... passionate about gender balance, inclusiveness
Ashley Gann is a Chief Meteorologist, an Aerospace Engineer and gender balance advocate. She is one of the 8 percent of women who are Chief Meteorologists in the United States. She has learnt the value of gender diversity in business and in leadership. For her, ultimately, equity leads to equality.
Ashley is also a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) advocate and she does this by telling her story, sharing how a pageant girl became a rocket scientist then meteorologist and outlining the many lessons she learnt as she overcame hurdles and stereotypes.
She believes it’s time to remove the social stigma surrounding women in STEM by celebrating the uniqueness of each person, especially girls and women, because she believes that we need more women in STEM, as it’s good for business and the bottom line.
She was recently on Intagram live on the program Inspiring Woman With Kemi Ajumobi Series, where she shared on mental and emotional wellness, and striking the balance in work, family and everything else, how reserving your priorities and taking an investment inventory of your time, will set you up for success in all areas of your life. This article explains in details the conversation.
For Ashley, seeing more women in more leadership positions in STEM is one of her goals, but STEM industries are not the only ones that benefit from an increase in female input. In her opinion, any corporation that’s lacking women (or any minority group) is missing out on some of the most creative, organised and systematic minds. According to her, a woman brings flexibility and complimenting skill sets to teams and the leadership ladder.
WHY AEROSPACE ENGINEERING?
I get that question a lot about why I went into the field of weather professionally. But I’ve always loved to study the space, the clouds, and everything in our atmosphere and I developed a love for space at a very young age. Here in The United States, we’ve a programme called Space Camp. It is where students can go and learn how to be an astronaut when they are young, and I did that and fell in love and knew we would be cool. I knew I either wanted to be an Astronaut or Meteorologist when I grow up. So, I continued on the school and when I went to college down to the university, they only had Engineering. They didn’t have the Meteorology programme in that particular university. So, I started with Aerospace Engineering and said well, if I get to the end of my school, then I can always get my masters in Meteorology, if that’s something I really want to do. And that was exactly what happened. Now, I’ve now been a meteorologist for 15 years. My background and love for space started at a young age and that’s why I did Aerospace Engineering. But so much of what I’ve learned in Engineering has applied to Meteorology. So, it’s been nice because there’s been a lot of similarities, they are both science-based and math-based programmes.
Meteorology and Aerospace Engineering
In Aerospace Engineering, we learn things like physics, thermodynamics, but we might apply it to a rocket ship or airplane, where we take those same principles or weather, and just apply it to a raindrop or a moving cloud. So, the fundamentals are very similar but how we apply it is very different. So, in Aerospace engineering we might build an airplane or build a rocket ship, but in meteorology, we are forecasting the future of the atmosphere based on the principles. I went to a school here in the United States that specialises in broadcast meteorology, so, a lot of the students in my programme would go on to be television meteorologist and I did something called internship. In my summer, between my years of graduate school, I went to a local TV station in the community and I learned the ropes and from there, I graduated and got my first job in TV. And here I am. I’ve always said if the whole weather thing doesn’t work out, I guess I can always fall back on being a rocket scientist.
First experience reading the weather
I was scared. As a Meteorologist, we don’t use a teleprompter, so, we don’t read the words off the screen. Everything we say has to come off the top of our heads. We just adlib everything. We have to talk about what we know and while we’re doing that, we have to remember where to point and because we got a big black screen behind us, the magic of television puts a map on it that you see at home. So that’s how that it works. I was so nervous. But’s it like riding a bike and once you learn how to do it, you’re off. You’re always going to know how to do it.
Few women are involved in Meteorology in America, why the low participation and how are you encouraging women to get involved?
I’m a chief meteorologist, which means, I’m the leader of my weather team and only eight percent of women ever get to wear that title in the United States. And of the TV meteorologists, we have about one-fourth of women. So, about 25 percent. But, what we’re finding is that a lot of times, maybe it’s the business, it’s not as conducive for women with children or the schedules can be very challenging on TV especially for weather. It’s a 24hr job. The weather doesn’t stop; the weather doesn’t know when the weekend happens. It doesn’t know when the holidays are, the weather just happens and you’ve got to be ready for it. So, I think it’s a matter of balancing the demands of the job with the work-life. I think if you’re climbing up in those ranks of leadership, businesses aren’t always adapting to how we’re managing everything at the work front. Businesses are often more geared towards men. Traditionally, it’s just easier because that’s what they’ve always dealt with and I think that’s why. We need more women in the upper level management. They bring value and creativity to the table
How are you using STEM to encourage more women to come on board?
STEM, for those who may not know is Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and I am very passionate about it. Obviously, my background is heaped in STEM, engineering background. I had masters in meteorology, so, I’m a math and science girl. I love math and science. But one of things I tell the younger generation is, STEM creates opportunities. In the next 15 to 20 years, 80 percent of all jobs in the world will have a STEM component. It doesn’t mean they have to be technical jobs, it just means that there will be an aspect of every job on the globe that has a STEM component. So, there is great opportunity. The reason it’s extremely opportunistic for women is that they are one of the higher-paying jobs. Traditionally, STEM jobs pay higher and there are so many scholarships for women, for people of colour, any type of ‘minority’ group. STEM is really trying to encourage more diversity and inclusion and that starts with offering these scholarships globally to people that look different than what their company make ups are. So, they are encouraging young people to dive in. There is incredible opportunity as far as job security; there is also great opportunity as far as your financial health. So, these are premiers that can establish you financially and can also promise a job for years to come.
How important is gender diversity in the work place?
This is a challenging question because sometimes, people don’t want to talk about it because it can be uncomfortable or they think that you’re just trying to be a clinging symbol in the wheel. Here is what we’ve proven…so, I’ve taken this conversation and applied actual facts to it. What we found is that, businesses that have more diverse upper level management both in gender and in race actually out-perform their competitors by 8 to 15 percent. One of the reasons we believe is that when you bring alternative perspective to the table, you can lead differently, manage differently and have a different type of outcome. It’s also proven that women in upper level management can often be an example of empathy, and empathy can often lead to better productivity because people feel safe in their work environment, they’ll trust those up there, and when you have better trust in a work environment, you increase your productivity and when you increase your productivity, you can ultimately increase your revenue and sales. So, it’s about setting that foundation.
One of the things I’ve been very passionate about is that in the United States, we have a 50-50 gender representation in the workforce, but, when you look at the upper level management, it is less than 20 percent. Then, when you look at upper level CEOs, only 6 percent are CEOs in Fortune500 Companies. When we started to look at it, from not just an employee standpoint, then we asked, what are we doing? Are we not promoting women? Are they not staying? One of the things I have learned is that, companies are having a difficult time retaining women because of the culture. A lot of time, companies say, “she’s just leaving because she had a baby”, “she’s just leaving because she has some family things”. Well, while there is some truth to that, often times, businesses are not willing to work with that unique circumstance to still allow that person to stay employed while still contributing to the workplace but also being fully present at home. I think that there is a way. That’s the part of my conversations that I’ll like to have with companies, how do we look at this differently? We’ve looked at it with the same lens, with the same pair of glasses for so long that we’ve forgotten the importance of looking at everybody’s situation differently and I’m really big on gender equity which means that we treat everybody’s situation based on their needs.
How do you combine work and family?
I would say I have an amazing teammate. My husband is my best friend and he loves wearing the father hat. I have a fantastic help mate. I have non-traditional work hours, so, with that, we find a lot of balance during the week. I’m home in the morning with the kiddos, and when the whole COVID-19 was happening (and still is) I stayed home and taught the kids. So, I did home schooling the morning, and the afternoon, I would go to work and drop the kids off at his office and he would bring the kids home. He owns his own business and has a small office and he doesn’t have to worry about other people being around. We just make a good team. We have a lot we schedule on our phones, I’m a big fan of shared calendars, so if a partner or family calendar, I’d try to join your calendars, because we always know what’s going on.
One other thing is that we just plan. We spend a day during the week like on a Sunday after church; we will plan and say what’s up this week? What days do you need to be available? How can we partner to make this week a success? And we just take it literally week-by-week; day-by-da and we don’t overwhelm ourselves. And the one fun thing that we do is that every quarter, we always make sure that there is something fun planned on our calendar. It gives us that look-forward-to moment. So, we’re not going to be celebrating the 4th of July here in The States, we’ve decided to go to the lake for weekend. So, we’re going to go camping with the kids. We’re looking forward to that. We have a trip this fall that we’ve planned; it gives us something to look forward to during the busyness of all of life. A lot of planning is needed and you just have to have that teammate that helps you and my husband is great. I really could not do the job that I do without him.
The importance of synergy in marriage
I think it just starts with understanding each other’s goals in life. My husband, when we dated, I was a meteorologist and he knew this is what I wanted to do in life. He’s always been a teammate. So, I think that having that synergy and understanding each other’s goals is important. There have also been opportunities for him to pursue a job, and I fully supported that. We’re people of faith and it’s something we’ll pray about and see where God opens doors for us ultimately. Our synergy comes from our work with The Lord and we know we belong to Him before we belonged to each other, we made a promise to one another and so, I think we just bear that in mind each day.
We also say how we live our lives today that reflects Christ, what can both do so that our marriage reflects Christ, our parenting reflects Christ, our children reflects Christ even when we’re not around. We just try to be mirrors to God’s illuminating glory. So, we just let our marriage speak for that and that’s how we find that synergy within our own marriage and relationship. It’s just looking for ways to say Lord, how do you become the middle of this? How can we do this today to glorify you?
Being a pageant Queen
I was a pageant queen growing up. I did it when I was little, and I did another round in high school and I recently did one as a married lady pageant. It was an international pageant. But I use that story to talk about not ever allowing anyone dull your sparkle. Pageant queens can get stereotyped especially in the United States. They are considered a little bit aloof; like, maybe they don’t know what they are talking about. But some of the smartest women I’ve met, some of the nicest women I’ve met are in the pageant circle which is kind of interesting and some of those women are still my friends till date. But, I also use that story as a way to have women overcome stereotypes.
What I’ve proven is that you can be a pageant queen, you can have a crown on your head and you can forecast the weather every day too. You can be just as successful in your careers as you can be in your hobbies. So, I use that to talk to women and use that to tell young girls, you can be both brains and beauty, and I believe that’s so true.
Even globally and in the corporate world, you find that women tend to get stereotyped or put into a box, but we’re so much more than just that. So, I use that to encourage women, don’t shy away from being who you are because all of your hobbies and the things that you enjoy are uniquely you and what makes you uniquely you also makes you valuable to a company, it makes you valuable to an organisation. Don’t ever let anyone dull your sparkle.
The importance of mental wellness and emotional balance
For me, it’s very important that we disconnect, and it goes both ways. I think as mothers we need to disconnect for a minute and regroup. As business women, we need to step away, take a break and regroup. Because I think that our brains are wired in a way that we need stimulants from other areas of life. If we’re doing the same things all the time, so often, we don’t want to lose sight of other parts of our brain. So, sometimes, when we’re working so hard on a project and we put all of our energy and time into that but we’ve forgotten our kids, we need to reset and find that balance.
Or conversely, if we’re spending and pouring all of our time into our family and we forget about some ‘me time’, it can take its toll on us. We need to just take a break and a deep breath. Because being healthy makes me a healthy mum. So, if I have my own personal wellness, it makes me a better wife, a better mum, and a better employee. One of the things that I try to stress about mental wellness is making sure that you have some ‘me time’. Make sure you set aside some time. It could be a few minutes during the day; it could be something during the week. It’s very important to allow yourself the grace to do something else for a moment just to free your mind. Take a few deep breaths.
And if you ever feel like enduring a day, you’ve just got some anxiety that comes over you or some stresses, take five minutes and take a deep breath. That five minutes is not going to derail you day. It’s important just to reset your body and prepare your mind. I’m a woman of faith, so I pray. That’s something that’s very important to me. I try to have my morning meditations, I pray with my children each day. I always find that when I miss a day being in the word of God, if I miss a day without praying, my day seems off.
Also, another thing that I tell people is to manage how you use the social media. It’s an amazing resource like we’re using it right now for a lot of good it supposed to be used for. But there is a lot of bad on social media. It can play with your brain. So, if you feel that you are on social media and it’s just kind of negative, get off of it for a minute or a few days and be sure to have the self-control to know when to say no to social media. There is a time and a place for it. It can be very positive but it can also be very toxic. I don’t think we realize how much social media plays into our mental wellness either.
How has the Covid-19 season affected you?
We have just slowly started reopening. But, for us, it was a blessing because I was able to spend all this sweet time with the kids. As a working mum, I would drop my kids off at 8 O’ clock in the morning to school and I wouldn’t see them again sometimes into the next day because I work at night. So, that was always so hard. Now, I get the opportunity to spend the morning with them, and teach them and I think I learn from them just like they learn from me. That was fun for me.
But the other thing is, my husband and I both have what is called essential jobs, so we were fortunate to be able to keep our jobs. But my husband also owns a business, so he decided not to take a salary so he could pay his employees. We felt like that was the right thing to do and so we were faithful in that and God has allowed us to keep all of our staff, but that also came with a lot of balance and we cared for the needs of the children together. We just had a lot of balance.
Our kids will be back to school in August, I think, and we will continue the same way through the summer.
On ‘Black Lives Matter’ and happenings in recent times
I personally think that we need to have these conversations. I think they are healthy for our communities; they are healthy for our society. There have obviously been some negatives. We’ve had some riots that I don’t think are part of the positive parts, but I do think having these conversations and understanding how we can move forward is good, and I think healthy conversations are really good in terms of understanding perspectives, vantage points, and “oh, I didn’t know you felt this way” because not everybody feels same way even within the same race and it’s because everybody’s life is different and it gets back to equity. Everybody’s story is different, everybody’s needs are different and how we look at each individual. If we look at through the lens as Christ looks through life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, the question is, am I exhibiting those behaviours to my brothers and sisters? I think that this is a huge turning point in the United States. I think we’re in a little of a fog right now, I think that we’ll come out of it. I still believe God is fully in control and like I said, I think it’s starting some really good and beneficial conversations here in the US.
What is that moment you can’t forget?
I’ll give you professional and personal. Professional first: This is one moment that really sticks out and it really is something that was the impetus from me really speaking out about how we respect women in business and how we need more. So, as someone on TV every day, I had the luxury of carrying my pregnancies on television and use to get a lot of emails. So people would send emails and say, ‘you need to start your maternity leave, we don’t need to see that’. Some people will just be so disgusted at my pregnant belly. Keep in mind that I’m only 5 foot 2 and I had a boy that is almost ten pounds. I remember that, that sticks out because it hurt to read those things. Moreover, it gave me strength. So, in a moment of hurt, I tried to use that for empowerment. I actually saved the emails so, when I do speeches, I use those emails, I share the words that were shared with me and see how the audience responds. I think it’s a real eye opener for people to understand that this still happens. That, professionally for me, is one reason I really talk a lot about respect. Just be nice humans. So, that’s it as far as professional.
A very positive personal: I can’t decide if it was when my husband and I got married or I had my first child. But those are two very special. When you became a mother, it changes you, good or bad, it changes you. For me, I felt like there was something bigger in the world than myself. It was a humbling experience. Motherhood is a humbling experience, but it’s also very empowering because now, I want my young girls to know that they can be anything they want to be. And I want them to see in their mum that I’ve worked really hard to get to allow them to have the things that they have but I also want them to see me working, and that’s okay. Whether you stay at home working is all a jobs, being a fulltime mum is a fulltime job.
But I like that she gets to see me struggling to make decisions during the day. She watches me when it’s hard. She watches me how I balance my schedules, and how I have to choose between hanging out with friends and going to work. So, she gets to watch that unfold. I think that motherhood to me is a great teaching tool. But it’s an honour for me to be a mother to my kids.
How has motherhood changed you?
I think it makes me take myself much less seriously. Before kids, you want to have your hair just right, you are trying to show up with the girls, and then when you have a kid, I just hoped I didn’t have spit up on my shoulder when I go to work. You really start to realise what’s important in life. I think motherhood has humbled me, but I also think it has made me have more fun because I get to see the joy of life through my children’s eyes, and there is really no better way to watch life than through the eyes of children because there is an honesty and sincerity and purity in the eyes of children.
Learning from mistakes
I say the only way to really learn in life is to make your mistakes and learn from your mistakes. The only way to really learn is from making those mistakes. And I think that that’s what challenges us, because we don’t learn much when we get it right. We just know that we did it correctly. Even on television, each day, I can make myself better, I can look back every day and say “what can I do to make this day better?”. That’s how we really refine ourselves. That’s how we really get better.
From a job stand point, mistakes are okay. I make mistakes in parenting. But be able to accept your mistakes. “I’m sorry mummy snapped at you, will you forgive?” and usually my daughter will say “mummy I will forgive you”. It’s so sweet it brings a tear to my eye. But I also want to teach her what asking forgiveness looks like. I don’t ever want her to think that we’re just immune from mistakes. I want her to live a life where she feels okay and safe even making a mistake, even in our own house. Because some kids feel they have to grow up in a perfect home. I want her to know that if there is anywhere you can mess up, it’s here, under the safety of mum and dad, but I want to leave that up to her so when she sees we make a mistake, she watches how I correct that behaviour.
Women supporting women
Especially in my line of work, there is a very small field of women, so it can be very competitive and often time harsh and that’s hard. However, there is a group of women that we have a Facebook group and it’s a TV Meteorologist broadcast group, and those women are all super supportive. If we ever have questions, we can get on there, we can support and love and help each other up. I think that of the flaws of even upper level management are women trying to be like men vs women being themselves. There is an ideology with women as they are promoted that they have to act a certain way, all of a sudden they have to change who they are for a position or a title and I wish that we have to refine that a little bit more so that, women don’t lose their identity and what basically got them that job, and just because they get the title of president or the title of manager, they don’t have to change who they are as empathetic women or supportive women. And I find that even in the United States, women can be a little hard. But I think by and large, I find much more supportive women. Yes, you will always find that there will be some difficult times, but in this case, I think that I have found a much safer and supportive group of women than the other.
Challenging times at work
I have gotten braver in my career. When I was young, I probably allowed for myself to entertain things that are not just healthy in the workplace because I was a young female. Nothing egregious like sexual harassment. But, I just thought that certain things were permissible, and as I got older I realised, no that’s not okay, that’s not permissible.
So, I’ve learnt now to just shut those things down and say, that’s not positive for the workplace, that’s not how you speak to women. Those are not things that you say. I’ve gone from being a wallflower where I just let people talk like that around me to someone who shuts down the conversation. Now, because I started doing that, people don’t really talk much around me anymore. That also shows that I have set a boundary and I’ve said “No I am not going to put up with people who speak poorly of others, I am not going to entertain gossip, I am not going to sit here and let you talk about my friends and colleagues in a certain way when they are not here to defend themselves”. That was something that happened to me earlier on. It was a growing moment for me; something happened and I was like, “No, not again. We’re not going to talk about people poorly”. I’m convicted and that’s it.
What’s the greatest lesson that life has taught you?
I think the greatest lesson life has taught me, and this comes out of motherhood, is that, someone gave us this great piece of advice when we became parents, they said: There are only things that you need to do as parents in your life: teach your kids about Jesus, and have fun.
And I really think that’s a life lesson that we can all use, adults and children alike. If you have your eyes focused on Jesus, you have fun and God will do the rest. Don’t take yourself too seriously, I can’t take things too seriously and that’s why I think that it’s important for us as a community to support each other in loving, meaningful ways. Just be light where you are and have fun and the rest falls into place.