Women Are Doing Their Part, We must do Ours

When we talk about diversity and inclusion, we talk about a lot of things. Gender, ethnicity, nationality, expertise, perspective, life experience, and sexual orientation, among others. But when it comes to the engineering industry and the people who work in it, the most basic aspect of diversity and inclusion centers on men and women. Men have comprised much of the engineering field for decades and women have not. We see that legacy every day.

But the world is changing – perhaps a bit slowly for some. But change is afoot. In its mission to Elevate the Industry, Zweig Group is committed to helping bring that change about. And as it pertains to Civil + Structural Engineer magazine, it means that we run stories on the great women who we hear about through our massive data base, or who we contact through client connections and personal referrals. This is not happenstance, but an intentional effort to celebrate the women who help shape the world in which we live. While the gender gap is still large – both rank-and-file and within leadership – and though pay equity remains an issue, there’s no denying that there are plenty of women doing fantastic things in the AEC industry.

But before I get into anything specific about any particular person, let’s look at a few facts and figures.

Among those surveyed by Zweig Group through its Best Firms to Work For questionnaires, 86 percent of all women bought the maximum amount of company stock when they became principals. And nearly half of all women – 44 percent – borrowed money to ensure their ownership stake in the company. Women, the research shows, are doubling down when it comes to committing to their careers in the AEC industry.

And then there’s this statistic: 100 percent of women in the AEC industry considered leaving the profession altogether. That’s not good, but look at the bright side: 50 percent of women considered leaving their current firm to start their own firm, as opposed to 21 percent of men. This speaks to entrepreneurship – something the industry still needs more of. If women are going to be part of an innovative, disruptive future, then more power to them.

It’s easy to get mired down in statistics. Instead, I’ll just state the obvious – while a lot of work still needs to be done, there are obvious signposts pointing to a more gender-balanced future in our field. With that said, consider a few of the women who have been, or who will be, featured in the magazine.

In last month’s issue, we had Emily Herndon. The high-flying strategy consultant built a career working at two of the largest engineering firms in the world. She told the magazine that life at the larger firms gave her access to great colleagues and clients, and that the real-world education was priceless. Herndon eventually took her experience to Woolpert, where she’s building out a strategy consulting team and has the freedom to function as an entrepreneur. What’s interesting about Herndon is that she’s not an engineer or an architect. But she does have a science background, giving her the “in” she needed to otherwise do what she does best – identify big problems and offer even bigger solutions. Herndon, with 20 years on her resume, has enough experience to be part of the past, but there’s still enough in front of her to be part of the future.

In this issue, we have Jennifer Toole. The founder of Toole Design said her old bosses at the old firms where she worked didn’t know what to do with her. She didn’t see a path forward, either. So, what does she do? She starts her own firm. And she’s done a great job, too. In less than 20 years, Toole Design has grown to nearly 200 people with offices across the United States and Canada. With the emergence of micro-mobility in major cities across the nation, Toole says her firm, which specializes in urban design and greenways, has found a niche within a niche. She said she plans on growing her firm if she can find enough qualified talent in a tight labor market. That’s not going to be easy, but if history tells us anything, it’s that Toole will figure out a way to find and hire the right people to help push her firm forward.

And stick around. This fall we’re going to have a special guest in our magazine, and hopefully on the cover!

I say all this as a reminder that talk is cheap. If you’re going to help bring about change, you must do something about it. In the pages of this magazine, we’ll celebrate the women who have made themselves into industry leaders. We’ll let them tell their stories to thousands of people and, hopefully, be an inspiration for others. In the process of bringing about change, what are you going to do?


Chad Clinehens, P.E., is Zweig Group’s president and CEO. Contact him at cclinehens@zweiggroup.com.

Comments