Libby Brooks is a project engineer at Milwaukee Tool where she finds creative ways to develop new products in the Lighting and Lifestyle department.
“In mechanical engineering, I like how you can actually touch the problems that you're working on. You can fit things together and it's kind of like one giant puzzle.”
When Libby isn't solving problems hands-on, she’s supporting other women in her field through women’s groups and online communities.
Why did you decide to go into mechanical engineering?
“I never thought I was going to be an engineer. As a teenager, I thought I wasn’t smart enough to pursue anything in math or science. I took art classes instead, because I enjoyed being creative."
Libby didn't change this mindset until senior year of high school when she took a class focused on fixing small engines. She was the only girl in the class and one profound experience changed Libby's entire perspective about herself.
“The whole point of the class was to take apart the engine of a lawn mower, lay everything on a table, then put the parts back together. If your lawn mower started then you passed the class. I had full creative freedom to execute this project and my lawn mower was the only one that started. That was my lightbulb moment.”
That class made her realize she wanted to major in mechanical engineering. “I set that as my goal in college, and said, ‘No matter what happens, I’m never going to give up.’”
What is your favorite part about your job?
“I really wanted a job where I could see the impact of what I was doing every day.”
Prior to working at Milwaukee Tool, Libby worked at power plants that provided people with electricity. As interesting as that line of work was, she couldn’t see the results of her hard work and decided to switch jobs.
“That's why I like working at Milwaukee Tool. After working on a product for 12 to 16 months, I can go to Home Depot and see it. People will buy and use the products that I had put so much time and energy into!"
How important is it to you to feel safe and confident at work?
Libby visits manufacturing plants fairly often and has to wear PPE equipment including a hard hat, safety glasses, and boots. Having well-fitting safety equipment is vital for doing her job.
“It's not fun to have to wear clunky boots or jackets that don't fit because then you’re more focused on the fact that your PPE doesn't feel right, rather than the problems you're trying to solve. I don’t want to be tripping over myself in clunky boots while I'm also trying to prove that I'm smart enough to be there as a woman.”
It makes perfect sense to eliminate one of those worries. The right safety equipment can make her feel more confident at work and help her stay focused. That's why Libby loves Xena Workwear boots. Her favorite part is that they offer electrical hazard protection. While everyone else she knows has to wear an additional strap over their boots, she just wears her stylish Xena boots.
What helps you stay creative?
As Libby develops new products, her main goal is to solve a problem at a job site. This can be somewhat broad, leaving a lot of room for creativity.
“While there are technical targets we want to hit to bring the best products to market, I get to work with other engineers and designers to create a vision that we want to bring to life.”
Libby connects this work back to her passion for art – creating a product through unique ideas and collaboration.
What advice would you give to other women interested in engineering?
“Don’t give up even if you're going through a tough time. Whether it’s in school or work, don't give up. During hard times, consider what your younger self would think of you today? If you're making your younger self proud, then the challenging times are totally worth it.”
Libby understands the extra challenges that women experience while working in male dominated industries. She suggests to look for other women who are navigating the same field and doing the same work. There are many online and workplace communities that women can tap into for mentorship, networking, and support.
How do you support other women in your field?
“I love getting involved in the women’s groups here at work. Milwaukee Tool does an amazing job with this.”
Libby is part of Women At Milwaukee (WAM) group that brings in inspiring female speakers and offers group discussions. Most importantly, it’s a place where women can share their experiences and find a support network. One of the recent discussions was about how men communicate differently than women in the workplace, which Libby found extremely insightful.