Celebrating Women in Construction and Engineering
By Suzanne Aultman, P.E., FPCI, Vice President of Engineering, Metromont
Women make up approximately 11 percent of the construction workforce and about 13 percent of engineers in the US. At Metromont, women make up just over 20 percent of our engineering team.
As with any under-represented demographic in any industry, the feeling of needing to work twice as hard to prove ourselves often exists.
To be a good engineer, or good at any career, your success has vastly more to do with who you are as a person than anything else … including your gender.
Women in Construction and Women in Engineering weeks bring awareness and add value to the fortitude and contributions of those striving to make a positive impact while paving the way for the next generation.
Once the celebration has passed, it is important that every day, I offer value to my profession, not because I am a woman, but because my knowledge, expertise, hard work, character and integrity make a difference.
I’ve learned throughout my career that regardless of gender, success has a great deal to do with a person’s response to a situation.
After completing my second year at Metromont, I found myself worried about an upcoming annual performance review. Earlier that year I had designed something incorrectly and did not realize it until after the project was poured. I had immediately alerted my boss, but my mistake cost our client time and our company money. This was certain to be a con on my review.
To my shock, that event was listed as a pro for the year. My boss noted it wasn’t the mistake, it was my response to the mistake that made an impression.
It’s not if you mess up. It’s when. And when that happens, the most important indicator of a successful employee is how they respond to the mistake.
May I suggest … integrity does not differentiate genders.
As I navigate my career with an intent of integrity, instead of taking the mindset of having to prove myself, I’ve found it to be advantageous to always be willing to learn and work on doing my job with confidence.
Confidence in the workforce can be a tricky situation to navigate, especially for women. Can’t we all recall a businesswoman who came across so bold that perhaps others used a different ‘b’ word to describe her?
For those who tend to be a bit over assertive, I’d challenge you with a few questions. What are you trying to prove and who are you trying to prove it to? Can you trust that your words and input will be taken when you share them? If you have to push to get them heard, consider if you are in the right place. If that unique team doesn’t give you space to be heard, perhaps it is not the right fit for you.
If you trust yourself and your valuable skill set, there is no reason for you to force yourself into the picture. There are other spaces just as valuable in your industry meant for you. Maybe that assertiveness just needs to be channeled into finding your space. We must all give and take to secure success for our team.
Then there are the women who compensate by going the other direction and choose to quiet their voices so as not to unsettle the lower octave tones in the room.
For those of us on the timid side, which is where I’ve often found myself over the years, take a moment to study your value. So often timidity reflects insecurity and worry that perhaps you don’t know as much as the others in the room. Trust me, others in that room often feel the same way about themselves.
For me, I’ve also noticed that sometimes my voice goes scratchy in meetings when I feel like the personalities in the room may be larger than my own. Always remember, you belong in that room. You have done the work to earn the spot you are in. Trust that.
Your perspective on that project, that meeting, or that situation is unique only to you. No one else has it. If you don’t speak up, there may be a missing part of that puzzle and your team would be incomplete if you don’t offer your two cents.
There is no doubt that it is certainly a skill for anyone to exude confidence successfully. We learn these skills by practice. Practice showing up. Practice speaking up.
Whereas our perspectives and approach can be considered novel in this industry, it is important that everyone in construction understands that each gender handles situations differently. Simply put, gender will play a role in the way we operate and conduct our lives, but gender alone does not limit or define our successes.
With master’s degrees in both counseling psychology and engineering, I find it fascinating the correlation between engineering concepts and the human psyche. For example, consider strengths and materials as it relates to humanity. When a material is stressed, how does it respond? Will it snap or will it bounce back? If stretched too far, will it ever regain its original composure? People are like this too. We all do better when we understand each other’s yield points.
There is great value in understanding our differences and using those to design better ways to strengthen our teams. When every person brings their whole self to the table, our teams become uniquely equipped to succeed. Realizing that different does not equal detrimental allows everyone in the precast, prestressed concrete industry to better contribute to our communities.
As we go forward, together, let’s continue to attract more people to construction and engineering careers. And although there are more females in the industry than ever before, let’s continue to promote women for their efforts and contributions, and remain respectful toward everyone who brings value to your company.
About Suzanne Aultman:
Suzanne Aultman, P.E., FPCI, has been a part of the Metromont Corporation since 2003. She currently serves as the vice president of engineering where she mentors younger engineers and leads her company in engineering excellence. Suzanne is a Precast Concrete Institute (PCI) Fellow and is also heavily involved in ACI standards development. In 2021 she was awarded Engineer of the Year by the South Carolina Society of Professional Engineers (SCSPE). Suzanne is a graduate of Clemson University and enjoys pickleball, gardening, traveling, and spending time with friends and family in her free time.