Being a Woman in a Male Dominated Profession

By: Teresa Dalton, P.E., Project Engineer

I’m a baby boomer. When I was growing up, men’s and women’s roles were defined, and many doors were not open to women. Most female role models at that time, both on television and in real life, were stay at home moms, teachers, secretaries, or nuns. Nonetheless, there were a handful of women whose lives were outside of the norm that were known to me. They included Joan of Arc, who led France to victory against the English during the Hundred Years’ War; Madame Curie, a physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity; Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean; and Althea Gibson, the first African-American tennis player to win a singles title at Wimbledon. Through their accomplishments, these women impacted not only those near them, but also the world.

In spite of being familiar with these gifted women, I never imagined myself doing anything outside of traditional roles, and there was little encouragement to do so. In 8th grade, we took tests that provided guidance for possible future careers for which we may be suited. It was several weeks later that the results were made available and handed out during class by my Ohio history teacher, Coach Rose. My results showed overwhelmingly that I would be proficient as a draftsman. I can still see myself looking up at Coach Rose as he laid the results on my desk as I heard him say, “Whoever heard of a lady draftsman?”

teresas-grades-in-high-schoolMy 8th grade test scores showing I did well in the drafting and design curriculum area

Despite the lack of encouragement and female role models, I found myself in professions traditionally held by men. I entered the Air Force directly after high school and was trained as a Ground Radio Communications Equipment Repairman, with a specialty in communications equipment on Titan missile sites. This was one of many positions that the Air Force had recently opened up to women and I was the first woman at McConnell Air Force Base, one of only three Titan missile bases, to work on the radar systems that surrounded the missile silo doors and escape hatches.

After my experience in the Air Force, I was hired by a large corporation and trained to repair computers. I was the first woman my manager hired in this position and he admitted to me two years later, that he had been very nervous about offering me a job. At the time I was hired, small companies were buying their first computers so it was an eventful time for them. I remember installing my first computer. I was on my hands and knees with my back toward most of the room installing a soundproofing skirt on the inside of a large printer. Quite a few of the company’s employees were standing at the other end of the room watching me and I overheard a voice behind me say, “Well, it looks like she knows what she is doing.”

teresa-daltonAt the Airman of the Quarter ceremony with my Squadron Commander and First Sergeant

While still working for the large corporation, economic conditions were such that layoffs were imminent. I knew the position I held at the time was tenuous so I began planning what I’d do when I received notice of my lay off. I talked to a guidance counselor at the university where I was taking night school classes and he arranged for me to take a computerized career assessment. No matter how I answered the questions, architect and civil engineer always popped up on the list of results. Within a year I was enrolled full-time at the University of Akron, majoring in civil engineering.

Throughout my varied careers, I have strived to do my best as I take pride in my work and seek to demonstrate that a woman can do the job. I also wanted to make situations easier for the women who followed me – to ensure that there wasn’t hesitancy in hiring another qualified women. In addition, I have encouraged young women to consider a career in engineering, particularly through Environmental Design Group’s involvement with The University of Akron’s Women in Engineering’s summer camp programs.

With women making up nearly 51% of the population in the United States, it is disappointing that there are not more women in the field of engineering. According to the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), women make up more than 20 percent of engineering school graduates, but only 11 percent of practicing engineers. In a recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, data revealed that nearly 40 percent of women who earn engineering degrees quit the profession or never enter the field at all.

teresa-dalton-2Relaxing during a lunch break

At Environmental Design Group, women make up more than 30 percent of the engineering work force and our experience is vast! Our talents include designing roads, traffic signals, complete streets, and infrastructure for site developments. We work on trails and park facilities, and green infrastructure including regional storm water management facilities and a wide variety of water quality systems, as well as stream restoration and remediation projects. We also perform traffic studies, environmental assessments, and construction inspection. All of these projects provide safety, environmental, social and economic benefits to our surrounding communities.

I believe that to be successful, you have to be yourself.  I have found that people respond to the level of professionalism you show, and despite being a minority in my field, I’m continuing to pave my way in the industry.  While I am a woman from the baby boom era, I chose a field that wasn’t the “norm” for women,  and I have made a great profession out of it.  Engineering is not just a man’s profession.  It’s a people’s profession, and I’m a living example of how anyone can make it when you’re dedicated and passionate.

 

 

 

 

I Made a Change Mid-Career

By: George Sendrey, P.E. Project Manager

Career change can be scary – it can also be gratifying. Sometimes it’s both at the same time.

I started my career as a young technical person right out of college, in the water treatment industry working in a water lab, analyzing water samples. It was not really my dream job, but looking back on it, I had the opportunity to learn about water treatment chemistry in excruciating detail. I was lucky enough to work for a great guy who mentored me and taught me the importance of water quality. He was a chemist, so details were his thing and by extension, they became my thing as well. He also pushed me and allowed me to be exposed to other areas of the company. It was through this exposure that I became interested in engineering since those were the guys designing the equipment that changed the water chemistry that I was so busy analyzing.

I was hesitant, but I decided to apply to the process engineering department at my employer and go back to school to get an engineering degree. Along with my biology degree, I was paving my path to long-term happiness.

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The company that I worked for had a great back to school program and actively promoted this benefit to all of its employees, so I took advantage of the benefit and applied to school – again. As time sometimes gets you, I was juggling school, family, and traveling the world to design and start up the water recycling systems that I designed, and before I knew it, more than 10-years had passed.

While I was in engineering school, I decided that my dream job was working for a consulting engineering firm and designing water treatment systems. That, paired with my sales abilities drove me to get my PE license. Timing is sometimes perfect because after I graduated with my engineering degree, and before I became a PE, the company I worked for decided to close the division I worked in. I took this as an opportunity to find my dream job at a consulting firm.

I ultimately landed my dream job working at a small consulting engineering firm, and it was awesome! I started out as the technical guy, but based on my past experience, they asked me if I wanted to combine some of my sales savvy with my engineering expertise and take on the task of sales and marketing for the firm. I called on municipal clients all over northeastern Ohio, building my network of contacts, expanding my friend circle, and designing the occasional project along the way.

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Again, time bit me unexpectedly, and I found myself 12-years along my career path, and the sad news our company was closing its doors stopped me in my tracks. This kicked off a tumultuous few months of soul searching, self-reflection and a certain amount of fear and uncertainty. It also gave me the opportunity to honestly reflect on my career and how I got to where I was and where I might go from here.

As a result of this reflection, I discovered that I was just treading water and I was not happy being “just a sales guy.” I reached out to my network of contacts and let them know I was looking for an opportunity that challenged my technical knowledge, but also provided the potential for growth on the administrative side of the business.

As a result of my network, and a little bit of self-promotion, I had the chance to meet and talk with several companies about the opportunity to join their organization. I went into these meetings with an enhanced sense of what I was looking for in a career (not a job). I wanted a position where I get to design cool things (water plants, water lines, sewer lines, wastewater plants, pump stations, etc.) and occasionally talk to people about it (sales).

Group of laboratory flasks with a clear liquid

When I initially met with Environmental Design Group, I was excited about the opportunity because they wanted an engineer, not necessarily a business development guy. But there was more to it than that – they also wanted someone to help grow the Water Resources Department.

I had meetings with other companies and even had several offers of employment, but what drew me to Environmental Design Group was the culture and the people. Environmental Design Group uses the tagline, “The Community Impact People” and this struck a chord with me. I may not have previously given it a second thought, but when I designed a water line or water plant improvement, I was improving someone’s life, even if they didn’t realize it. This was the life goal that I was searching for – using my talents to make peoples’ lives better or safer.

Abstract background with a molecules of water.

I am thankful for the opportunities of change that have presented themselves throughout my career because it forced me to stop and consider my current status and future career path.

If you are faced with a career change, use the opportunity to stop, reflect and plan for the future. If you do, I’m sure you will find it’s never too scary or too late to find that gratification in a job that you love.