Women in Engineering: Keep Going, Keep Showing Off

From L to R: Lynn O’Grady, design engineer II, Liz Jones, project engineer, Tori Lio civil design engineer I with R&R.

By Anna Schmidt, marketing/business development manager R&R Engineers-Surveyors, Inc.

In an industry becoming more female inclusive, it is imperative that a company’s culture be clear and deliberate to attract and retain talent. As of 2021, women made up only about 10% of the construction industry’s workforce. Specific to engineering, only 17.2% of civil engineers are women, while 77.3% are men.

R&R has recognized this historic imbalance and made notable progress in not only bringing women to the table (so to speak) but encouraging the advancement of their positions. As a company, we have made and continue to make an intentional effort to evaluate our recruitment including how our job descriptions are written and how we present ourselves at career and hiring fairs. We aim to encourage women to look at roles usually held by men. “You know you are smart enough, able enough, passionate enough. When others see these traits in you, they gravitate towards you and they start to believe in you as well,” encourages Stacy Lynn Jacobs, PLS who has been working in the survey industry for over 30 years.

Once you have hired women to your team, it is important to empower the women on your team to explore personal and professional growth opportunities. When asked why she joined R&R, Lynn Grady felt like she mattered from the start. “R&R genuinely wants to see their employees succeed. I have learned something new every day and it has been a great inclusive environment. R&R also gives me access to the resources I need to further educate myself or complete complex tasks and I am also supported by smart and impressive female engineers and surveyors.”

Those smart and impressive female engineers make up 75% of R&R’s Civil Engineering Design department. “R&R’s engineering group has been one of the most positive places I have worked at as a female engineer,” said Liz Jones, a project engineer. “I enjoy what I do and know my ideas are respected and I am supported.”

We know that working in a mostly male-dominated environment can be daunting, however, with proper leadership, support, and opportunities, an environment can and does exist where women will thrive. Below is some advice and lessons learned by some of R&R’s female staff:

What advice do you have for other women in your field?

Keep going, keep showing off, be proud, help and teach others. Your hard work and representation in the industry is huge for confidence building in younger engineers, especially women engineers — Victoria “Tori” Lio, civil design engineer I, one year of experience.

What is your advice for other women in engineering?

Trust your voice and speak up Your opinions and ideas are an asset and deserve to be heard. In high school, some of my classes continued to cultivate my already-found interest in engineering. I have always loved construction and design, community layouts and city planning, architecture, and bridge design so I chose to pursue civil engineering because I wanted to have a career that touched all of those industries. I chose a position at R&R that would allow me to be a beneficial part of the team while also letting me learn and grow. I appreciate how much R&R values their employees and I know my contributions matter and I can freely share my ideas — Lynn O’Grady, design engineer II, with three years of experience.

Why did you choose to pursue civil engineering?

When I was pursuing my degree in environmental engineering, I immediately became fascinated by how little I knew about the detailed work that goes into daily functions of society; such as the access of clean water at the turn of a tap (let alone reasonable pressure), appropriate turning radius at an intersection, mindful slopes on handicap ramps, correctly sized stormwater inlets and pipes so our basements don’t flood, and sanitary sewer mains to make certain things “disappear.” Although I’m only scratching the surface of what people in the civil engineering field pay close attention to behind the curtain, it is safe to say the absence of these details would simply change our daily reality — O’Grady.

What is your advice for other women in engineering?

Don’t feel like you have to settle. If you aren’t enjoying what you are doing, don’t like the culture of your workplace, or don’t feel like you are being taken seriously and respected, don’t be scared to try and make a change if you think it might put you in a better position to enjoy what you do and who you work with. The desire to be around supportive people who take you seriously and respect you as an engineer is a valid reason to take the risk! Working at the right company that not only respects you, but also helps you grow professionally and personally has made a huge impact on myself — Liz Jones, project engineer, eight years of experience.

What challenges have you faced in your career?

Being underestimated! I think many women in this industry can relate. When starting with a new team, there is often a “prove yourself” stage; We have to prove that we know what we are doing. We have to talk the talk, walk the walk, and do so with authority. (Some) people find it strange, still to this day, for women to be Land Surveyors — Stacy Jacobs, survey project manager, 31 years of experience.

What is your advice for other women in engineering? 

Girl, you do you, and do you well! Don’t apologize for who you are. Show up. Put in the work. Put in the extra effort. Have fun and enjoy what you do! Show your passion for what you do in your work and how you relate to others. Be nice. Laugh. Grind. Always grind. But have fun doing it — Jacobs.

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