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WOMEN IN CIVIL ENGINEERING & CIVIL CONSTRUCTION: TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR OWN CAREER

S. Scot Litke, Honorary D.GE

I realize that I could be criticized as being guilty of “looking from the outside in” without a personal understanding of what women working in civil engineering (CE), and civil construction (CC), are up against as it relates to career choice and career advancement. This would be a justifiable criticism for as a male in the industry I can only marginally understand how the forces at play in the workplace affect women. According to the very latest thinking in Cognitive Psychology, there is a big difference between “empathy” and “sympathy”. According to this new thinking in psychology, which is not yet universally accepted, empathy is actually feeling the experience of another. For some theorists, this is impossible. Sympathy on the other hand is having feelings for what someone else is experiencing, and/or for that experience itself. This is an interesting aside, but of direct relevance as in most cases, operative word “most”, men occupy the higher rungs of the managerial ladder and it is often them who are making decisions about personnel advancement. They just might not “get it”….

While there are many impressive advances in womens’ rise to the top, not the least of which is the recent candidacy of Hillary Clinton for the U.S. Presidency, it comes as no surprise that statistics support the reality that women are still disproportionally under-represented at the top of the corporate ladder. We also know that pay for women doing the same jobs as men lags behind. I am pleased to say that to some extent this is changing. However, when you consider that women outnumber men in the general U.S. population and are coming closer to that number in the workplace, there is a long way to go for gender equality and opportunity in the world of work.

Role Models

In the fields of CE and CC, another psychological and sociological perspective relates to the presence of “Role Models” in one’s experience. We tend to model ourselves after people who we see, with whom we identify, and in most cases who we respect. In a corollary fashion as humans we tend to see ourselves in roles filled by people we like and/or admire. This is true in any realm of endeavor be it business, athletics, art, parenthood, you name it. When there is a paucity of models in any given context, it is harder to see oneself in that image. As the adage goes, “success begets success”, and in the case of careers in CE and CC if there aren’t a good number of individuals with whom we can make these kinds of image connections we are less likely to pursue that particular path. There are changes afoot and efforts being made in the field of education wherein STEM programs (science and math-focused) are becoming more available and valued, and in which more and more young women are taking part. This is an important developmental phenomenon, but by its very nature, it is evolutionary. It will take time for its impact to be felt. So what do women in today’s workplace do right now?

Taking Charge

Career Coach and Management Consultant, Joel A. Garfinkle, is the author of “Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level”.* In an article that appeared in the November 23, 2016 issue of SmartBrief entitled, “Women in Leadership: Three Steps for Getting Ahead”, Garfinkle focuses on three keys that specifically apply to women who are interested in advancing their careers, these are “Assertiveness”, “Mentorship”, and “Sponsorship”. Let’s take a closer look at all three.

Under Assertiveness Garfinkle states that in many cases when it comes to salary negotiations women lack self-advocacy. He notes that, “lack of self-advocacy during salary negotiations costs the average working woman nearly $500,000 in lost wages by age 60. Still other research indicates that being overly aggressive can be just as damaging for women”. He further offers that when it comes to advocating for yourself not all strategies that work for men, who tend to be more aggressive, may work for women. This is not a criticism of women or “painted with too broad a brush”. It merely reflects Garfinkle’s thinking. So what is a woman to do?

Garfinkle tells us that, studies show that the following tactics, (as seen through my personal lens), are the top picks for women looking to advance.

… Make your Work Known

Don’t be reluctant to take the steps necessary to make sure everyone knows how good you really are. Of course this is a matter of “style” and there are no hard and fast rules. There are many value-loaded words, such as “boastful” that come to mind so you have to see what fits for you. It is also a function of knowing your superior’s (boss’s) personality, and how he/she might respond to your advocacy. Moreover as a man writing this “guide”, I have to be careful not to come off as condescending or paternalistic. Therefore I will leave it at that. Whatever works for you, works for you, but don’t be reluctant to present your accomplishments for the project, department, and company in the best light in personal evaluations, meetings, and related contexts that offer opportunities to let it be known that you have made a significant contribution.

… Network Inside and Outside your Organization

Become involved with others who will understand and who can assist in addressing your career challenges. You may find that there are folks in your company and outside who are very much like you. These are people who have had success in advancing their careers by various means that may resonate with you. Within your organization find a Mentor who you trust, admire, and who would be happy to help you as you navigate through the bureaucracy and politics that are part of any organization from small to large. It might also be advantageous to find a Sponsor for your advancement. This could be someone in your organization, and/or a highly regarded person on the “outside” who has the ear of the decision-makers in yours.

As it relates to outside connections such as professional organizations, and in addition to finding folks just like you with whom you can share your thoughts, plans, and goals, you may become aware of opportunities elsewhere. Garfinkle advises that you not forget that “you are your own best advocate”. Don’t be reluctant to “aim high”. After all this is your career.

In Conclusion: Have a Plan

Take the time to think through the rationale for your career objectives. Survey the landscape. Develop a sense of how things work in any environment in which you work. Look for models that make sense to you. And finally, it’s not enough to know “what” you hope to achieve, but also “why” you want to go there in the first place. There are career objectives and there are life objectives. In the best of all possible worlds, (thank you Dr. Pangloss…), they are in concert.

*Audio Book, Available on Amazon.

Addendum: Women in Deep Foundations Advocacy Groups

A dynamic “DFI Women in Deep Foundations Committee” was founded several years ago. Its membership is open to women and men who are advocates for retaining women in the deep foundations industry. The committee was originally headed by Helen Robinson, P.E., Past Editor of “Deep Foundations Magazine”. Helen is a geotechnical engineer with Schnabel Engineering, West Chester, PA. The committee is currently chaired by Raffaella Granata, of the Trevi Group. In addition a new “stand-alone” entity has recently been formed by Peggy Hagerty Duffy, PE. D.GE, and Helen. They have created a blog that offers an opportunity for interchange about important issues for women in the engineering profession. They have provided the following description about their efforts.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
S. Scot Litke, Honorary, Board Certified, Diplomate of Geotechnical Engineering

S. Scot LitkeScot is often referred to as the “Dean of Association Executives” in the geo-industry. He served as the Executive Director of the ADSC: The International Association of Foundation Drilling from 1982-2010. He is a member of that organization’s Hall of Fame. During his tenure with the ADSC he was the Editor-in-Chief of Foundation Drilling Magazine, the association’s flagship publication. A noted public speaker, lecturer, and author Scot has received numerous awards from a variety of geo-industry-related organizations including the ASCE’s Geo-Institute, the American Subcontractors Association, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Canadian Geotechnical Society, and the United States Universities Council for Geotechincal Engineering Research. He was the recipient of the Deep Foundations Institute’s 2014 “Distinguished Service Award”. Scot is a Founding Trustee of the Geo-Institutes, “Academy of Geo-Professionals”. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the “ASCE’s Council on the Certification of Engineering Professionals”. His column, “Beneath the Surface” appears regularly in Deep Foundations Magazine, the official publication of the Deep Foundations Institute. His writings appear in other geo-industry publications. Scot offers management consulting services in Strategic Planning and Communications to companies and organizations in the geo-industry. Scot can be reached at: scotlitke@att.net


This article originally appeared in “Deep Foundations Magazine”, the flagship publication of the Deep Foundations Institute. It is herein reprinted with permission of the DFI and the author. To learn more about the DFI and their programs visit: www.dfi.org.

This article was reproduced under the auspices of Pieresearch, manufacturer of quality concrete accessories, exclusively for the benefit of the structural and geotechnical engineering, architectural and construction communities.