women in engineering

Women in Engineering: One Practitioner Reflects on Women in Engineering

While women have increased their presence in professions traditionally dominated by men—such as business, medicine and law—the number of women in the U.S. in engineering has not increased since the early 2000s, according to the Society of Women Engineers. However, around the globe, there has been a steady increase across several countries in the number of engineering degrees awarded as seen in the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators (2018).

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, we discussed with one Aladon RCM3 Certified Practitioner what it’s like to work in a field that has traditionally been predominately male.

Elizabeth “Liz” Minyard, IPD Owner Advisor at Brown and Caldwell, just recently completed Aladon’s RCM3 Certification. Although she’s not an engineer, she has worked in the industry for more than 30 years. In her work with engineers and owners–including operations and maintenance (O&M) staff—she says she’s “always had a knack for translating between engineers and users (software, principles, processes) or organization owners (city councils, utility boards, C-suite and management).”

Do you work mostly with men?   

My early years in engineering environments involved working with a much higher number of men than women – particularly noticeable in engineering and management. However, in the last 10 years or so I have seen a shift in engineering and consulting, toward a more balanced and accepting environment for women. There are still some areas in our industry where a higher percentage of men continue to dominate, specifically in leadership and C-suite roles, but even that is changing, slowly.

What is it like for you as a female in the industry?

I like to embrace and encourage others to pursue their passions, regardless of gender. Sometimes being the “only one” can be an advantage in providing new perspectives, inviting more participation by women, and leveraging the differences rather than trying to fit into an existing mold. We all bring something unique to the table, and respecting and accepting those unique perspectives benefits us all in the long run. As humans, we need to be open to the other voices around us. For the most part, I don’t let being the “only one” hold me back.

There are always exceptions, but for the most part, I’ve had a successful career being myself and being accepted for what I bring to the team. I’ve made choices to avoid workplace cultures that don’t nurture the strengths of employees or don’t encourage growth in personal and professional development. At Brown and Caldwell, we are employee-owners, which creates a very supportive atmosphere with a focus on succeeding as a team. In addition, we have a very diverse team that reflects the very diverse world around us.

What would it take for more women to pursue (and stay in) careers in engineering?  

Encouragement needs to start early, which means supporting interests in science and exploration at a young age. There also needs to be more flexibility in work schedules and no more penalties in career advancement when either parent takes time off or adjusts their schedules to raise kids.

With my kids, I’ve seen great strides toward encouraging and supporting interests in science and engineering for boys and girls. There are still people who would shift students in one direction or another based on gender, but that is fading as more women enter science fields and are seen as successful contributors. While I’m sure having two parents with careers in engineering and engineering related fields helps, I’ve noticed more women as science educators than I had growing up. Seeing someone who is “like you” provides a way to see yourself in that role someday.