The sight of having women leading trenchless projects is no longer the exception. Our panel discusses the impact women are having in today’s trenchless industry.
For the 2023 Editorial Roundtable, Trenchless Technology delved deep into the topic of Women in Trenchless — gleaning perspectives from just a few of industry’s most respected and leading women in the field of trenchless. Our panel comes from all walks of trenchless life and each with a different journey to share — engineering, contractors, manufacturers/suppliers and public works — offering keen understanding into the growth of women in the long male-dominated construction industry.
The Roundtable discussion was frank, direct and their assessments of women in today’s trenchless industry are powerful and empowering.
Trenchless Technology editor Sharon M. Bueno led the conversation that covered a multitude of topics including the growth of women in the industry, as well as their experiences of sexism from “old-school” construction colleagues and what women bring to the trenchless table vs. male counterparts.
The 2023 Editorial Roundtable took place during the 2023 NASTT No-Dig Show in Portland, Oregon. Our panel consisted of:
- Michelle Beason, P.E., Regional Manager, National Plant Services, a Carylon Co.
- Tiffanie Mendez, National Sales Director, Sunbelt Rentals Pump Solutions
- Stephanie Nix-Thomas, P.E., Owner, Claude H. Nix Construction/Jasco Inc.
- Cindy Preuss, P.E. Water Conveyance Discipline Leader Water Services Group, CDM Smith
- Ashley M. Rammeloo, MMSc., P.Eng., Director Water, Wastewater, and Stormwater Environment & Infrastructure, the City of London, Ontario
Talk about what you do and how you were introduced to trenchless technology.
Michelle Beason: I’ve been in the wastewater/water business for 30 years. I started as an engineering consultant where we took on a lot of new construction projects. Then I worked for a utility district where I was on the planning and construction phase of new and rehabilitation projects. I really got involved in trenchless in 2010, and even more so since I joined National Plant Services in 2014 when I got more involved with trenchless repair services — point repairs, injection grouting, spray mortar lining; repairs that can trenchlessly extend the life of our assets at the lowest possible price.
Tiffanie Mendez: I work for Sunbelt Rentals and I’m the national sales director for the pump solutions business unit. I started out in the rental business very early in my career. I started out washing equipment in the yard. One day my manager came to me and asked if I would like to try working at the counter. I just kept raising my hand when they would have opportunities and they kept giving me more stuff to do. At this rental business, they specialized in pump, pipe and filtration. So, I got to learn the business from the ground up. While doing that, I was going to school at night and working on my business degree. I was also learning a lot of cool engineering and design principles at this company. I had the opportunity to work with some really cool engineers and to do Cal-Poly’s ITRC School for three summers from 1999-2001. That’s where I learned about pipeline hydraulics and pumping. From there, the more opportunities that came up to sell bypass pumping, the more involved I got. It works like that in the rental business. You show up and do stuff and people keep giving you more to do, promoting you. I kept showing up and saying I’ll re-locate, I’ll go there and I’ll do that — and here I am today.
Cindy Preuss: My current role at CDM Smith is water conveyance discipline leader. I am the internal and external technical resource for my company and clients, specifically in the area of trenchless technologies. I got into trenchless because of my second pipeline project ever as an engineer. The project included sliplining, several horiozntal directional drill (HDD) installations, cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) and auger bore and jack. I was greener than green than green, but doing my best to navigate through it all. I would love to give Vern Phillips of Harris & Associates some kudos because I remember him coming into my office during that project and asking if I was available to go to the upcoming No-Dig conference. I asked, “What’s that?” Little did I know, that first No-Dig conference not only helped me with every trenchless aspect of my project design, but it blew my mind. I had need in both rehab and new installation areas and I didn’t even know those were the two trenchless categories — it was really tough to decide what track to go to. Vern had said he wanted me to become the trenchless expert at Harris & Associates, and all it took was that first conference for that prospect to be exactly what I wanted as well. I walked away with a thirst and curiosity of all things trenchless that still inspires me today.
Ashley Rammeloo: I am the director of Water, Wastewater and Stormwater for the City of London (Ontario). I oversee a nearly 300-member staff in the engineering and operations of our sanitary and storm infrastructure, as well as wastewater treatment and water distribution. I came up through the sewer side of things. I got into trenchless technology in 2005 as an engineer-in-training, assigned to the trunk sewer inspection program. It was only a few years old at that point. That led to me being the project manager on the City’s first trunk sewer CIPP project and it grew from there. From that, I was encouraged to write a paper and I presented it at different conferences, which led to No-Dig. That grew into me doing a larger trunk sewer lining program, as well as pilot programs to try some of the other technologies I was seeing at the shows. Currently, I sit on the NASTT Great Lakes, St. Lawrence & Atlantic Chapter (GLSLA) board.
Stephanie Nix-Thomas: I am the president of Claude Nix Construction, based out of Ogden, Utah. We are a trenchless contractor in the Intermountain West. My background is in civil and environmental engineering. I spent a number of years in consulting engineering, then worked for a regulatory agency in Utah. I joined the family business in 2000 and in 2002, my brother and I purchased the business from our parents. The company owned a Vermeer hammer from 1997 so they had done some trenchless technology before I got there. But in 2004, we did the first pilot-tube microtunnel project in Utah. In 2007, we paired pipe ramming with the GBM and we won an award at from NASTT for being innovative. It’s been our core business since 2004.
How has the number of women grown during your tenures in the construction/trenchless industry, especially in leadership positions?
SNT: I would first say that a woman pioneer and leader in our business was June Jackson. And I don’t know if anyone remembers June Jackson but she was a salesperson for Vermeer. She sold us that 12-in. hammer that we bought in 1997 and showed us how to do the first ram that we ever did. I think that a lot of the leadership since then has been in the engineering field, which I’m happy to see. I’d like to see more of it in the equipment, supplier and construction side of things. I think it just takes pioneering women who don’t back down and have that ‘Yes, I can do it’ mentality. I have seen it evolve. I think discussions like this help because then more women can see women in these roles and that’s how it makes it more comfortable for everybody: We’re here.
AR: It was always really interesting for me coming to No-Dig in the earlier days when there were fewer women but so many of them were taking on leadership positions with the national board and the chapters. It’s been nice over the last number of years to see the number of women you see at this conference increase, and that leadership has really continued. We have a really great legacy in trenchless and certainly with NASTT and at the No-Dig show. At the City, five years ago, we didn’t have female staff that had their entire chain of command made up of women, and we do now. We actually have meetings now where the entire room is women and that didn’t happen five or six years ago. It’s really nice to see.
CP: I remember when I first came to No-Dig in 2004, Joanne Carroll was the only woman in leadership at NASTT. You look at it now, and how many women are on the board? Six. That’s a pretty good increase over 19 years. Otherwise, I honestly haven’t seen a big imbalance in women in the industry over the years. Except for construction, when it comes to engineering I’ve always seen a lot of women… Now whether they’re actually acknowledged or accepted by certain clients (older, male clients), that can be a whole other story.
TM: So, in 1997 when I got to the rental industry, there was one female branch manager, Leslie Garner, and she was a pioneer. When I became a manager, it was pretty much her and me. There were women in the business but none of them were in leadership positions except for Leslie. I was the second female at the company to be promoted to a location manager, which meant you got to have your own crews, your own equipment and bid your own projects. That journey from 1997 until now, I’ve seen a tremendous evolution in the rental business where the industry has become more and more attractive to females. To the point now where, it’s certainly not 50-50, but I will say in terms of leaders, managers and sales professionals, the highest performers, it’s a 50-50 split between men and women, which is a lot different over the last 25 years. In terms of trenchless, I would come to No-Dig as an exhibitor and just brand new in my sales career, and I would see Kim Staheli, and say, “Man, I would love to talk to her.” When I joined Sunbelt Rentals, they were extremely supportive of the trade association and encouraged us to be involved as we could, and that opportunity let me be at the shows and that’s where I was able to serve on the program committee. At my first program committee, who was the most energetic chair? Cindy Preuss. My point is that I’m sitting here at a table with all of you and it’s all made possible because of this association and this network and fellowship we get to do. Especially for trenchless but transcending other areas of the construction industry. These kinds of opportunities are super valuable. I hope that out of this content that will be published, that more companies will have more visibility into why the investment matters and how they can meet their diversity goals in a sustainable and organic way just by providing opportunity for more people to feel like they belong.
MB: When I went to Purdue University and graduated there was maybe 3 to 5 percent women in my classes, the rest were all men. I volunteer to do lunch-and-learns at colleges and I see an increase from those early days, maybe 25 to 30 percent women. So, in terms of people entering the field, there’s a lot more than when I went to college. I have specialized in construction for 18 years. As Cindy mentioned, there’s very few women in the construction field. Most women in the industry are engineers, or work for municipalities. I rarely ever see contractor-owners, like Stephanie, active in the industry and that’s unfortunate because I think women make very good construction managers and can lead and direct crews. We are good with planning and forward thinking. I think a lot of women are intimidated to get into construction because it’s mostly men, it’s field work, and it can be dirty. I am very hands on. A lot of people see my posts on LinkedIn… I’m in the pipe and help out the crews. I have earned the crews’ respect. A lot of women can do that. Maybe they are not as hands on as me, but if you know your stuff, there won’t be many problems. Sometimes you might get a look like, “Oh this person, what do they have to tell us?” but then you start talking, and they all realize you are an expert and can contribute. There’s never been any disrespect shown toward me. I’ve even had people compliment and tell me, “Wow, you really know your stuff.” Sometimes, they’re so surprised, that they actually say it out loud. I wish more women would feel comfortable to enter the construction field but you need the right personality, too. You can’t be intimidated, you’d need to get over that part. You have to learn to feel confident to be in a room full of men and lead them.
What are the challenges that women face working in construction/trenchless?
MB: I think the biggest challenge women face is the “challenge, period.” Whenever you get introduced to a new group of people, they don’t know who you are. They are thinking: Who is she? Does she have any experience? That is the scariest thing you need to ever overcome: that first interaction. How you carry yourself. How you have the work organized. If you know the product or projects you will be working on and have a good plan, everything else will flow nicely. In construction, there are people who have been doing the work for a long time, and don’t want to be told what to do. But if you come into a situation with the right approach, are prepared, and you know your stuff, you won’t have many problems. So that is the biggest challenge: navigating that initial interaction and planning phase when meeting a new group of core people — whether it be a contractor or city personnel — and being prepared. Confidence is my No. 1 piece of advice to give new, and seasoned, people in the industry.
TM: I would say where the challenge lies for us and from what I experienced is if, as a female, are in a location where you are not supported by your leadership. My advice would be if you are not supported by your leadership, if they don’t see your value, you must move on to somewhere else — because you will fit and be amazing. Don’t stay where your talents aren’t appreciated. If you are supported by your leadership, and, to Michelle’s point, if you come prepared and you know what you are talking about, then you can succeed. For a lot of us, you feel what’s called “imposter’s syndrome.” You show up and you think: Why am I here? How can I possibly be good enough? Everybody goes through that and it’s helpful for a woman just getting into the construction business to understand that everybody feels that way and it’s ok. If you show up prepared, you do belong and can do this. I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by a talented group of mostly men, but women, as well, to have advocates in the business.
CP: I would say there are two main challenges. One is confidence, and the other is knowing what you don’t know and being ok with that. Being honest about that lends itself to acceptance and personal growth. When I go out to a construction site or am interacting with a contractor, I understand they are the ones out there actually constructing the work I’ve designed — I can learn a lot from them. Through my interest in their means and methods and asking questions based on my understanding of the project, I start seeing the construction workers come around a little bit, like, “So, okay, she knows what she’s talking about on her end of it and she’s curious how we do it.” In this way, the interaction becomes more of a collaborative dialog and not a know-it-all dialog (for either party). This can help diffuse any stigmas that otherwise may be had, while allowing me a great opportunity to learn.
AR: Going back to what Michelle was saying, it’s a great benefit to be very deliberate in establishing your presence with them and building those relationships. If you do that, you can really minimize some of those challenges. I honestly think the biggest challenge is the perception of what it’s going to be like. People now are more accepting and those who aren’t, know that they’re maybe not on the right path. There’s always going to be a challenge with somebody new coming into a situation… showing that you do have relevant knowledge, that you do have some authority. You do that and you know your stuff, you’re prepared, you’re collaborative, and you appreciate them, then you get the same in return.
SNT: Seconding a lot of what’s been said. The notes that I took are that it’s your personal mindset and just having that confidence. If you are interested in it and you are good at what you are doing, don’t let anything detract or distract. Be confident in what you are doing and continue on.
Sexism in construction isn’t a new topic. In your experience, how have you handled sexism on the job? How much of an issue was it and currently is?
SNT: When I graduated in 1984 and went out on interviews to work for a consulting engineering firm, I interviewed with someone who asked me if I was planning to have children. And at 25 years old, I said yes. He then told me that he couldn’t hire me because that would be a distraction in my career. My Dad teases me about being stubborn and bullheaded, and that interview solidified my resolve. I just knew I could do it. So, I don’t let sexism bother me. I’m going to do what I’m going to do. If there’s a wall, I’ll go around it. I’ll find another way. I am like water and it tends to find a way.
AR: I graduated a little bit later than Stephanie so I’ve been fortunate to not have to deal with being in an interview where they are going to ask you do you plan to have children. That was already, absolutely not allowed to be asked by the time I was entering the workforce. But that doesn’t mean you don’t encounter it in those subtle ways and through microaggressions — that’s where you see it. Occasionally, you get someone who avoids dealing with you, goes around you to someone else. Sometimes you go into a meeting and it’s assumed that you’re there to take notes. Not that there’s anything wrong with being the administrative assistant but it’s not the only job we hold. There was a time I went to a Trenchless Technology Roadshow and the night before I was out with some colleagues. I was sitting between two male friends from the trenchless industry and a few others who I didn’t know. The next day when I went to the tradeshow, one of the men from the night before who I didn’t know said, “Oh, last night, I was trying to figure out who you were married to.” Well, I was the chair of the host organization. I wasn’t married to either one of them. My husband was at home looking after our child. You get some of the sexism but it has evolved. It isn’t the same roadblock that it used to be. It’s around and it’s annoying but I don’t feel my career has ultimately been limited by it. I saw remnants of those attitudes, early in my career but those folks have since retired and moved on. The next generation is just not that way. It’s more inclusive.
CP: It was early on in my career where I had the most struggles. The more seasoned individuals in the industry held fiercely to gender roles. So, this was the early 2000s and I was a project manager and had a client meeting. I went with my project engineer, who was male. We sat down with the client, who was male, and he would not address me. Would not talk to me. Would not look at me — even though I’m the one who handed out the agenda and was on record as the project manager. I would say something like, “Here’s where we are, these are the 50 percent plans and here are some questions.” I would then ask a specific question and he would turn to the project engineer and answer it, as if the project engineer asked the question. So the project engineer would look over at me, and I would then ask a follow-up question back to the client. It was just this ridiculous circle. When we walked out, the project engineer was astonished and asked me if that happens all the time? I said, “Not really, but that was the first time it was that much ‘in your face.” Honestly though, that was when sexism started to transition in the industry, and that client was retirement age. I’ve seen that completely shift over the years. I don’t get that anymore.
TM: So, certainly when I started my career it was the age of the screaming superintendent, you had to ‘kick the dirt and spit’ in the field to get seen and heard. If customers came to our location to talk about pumps, they often would immediately turn to whomever was my male counterpart and ask them a question about total dynamic head or some such thing and that person would turn to me and wait for me to answer and we would explain the system to the client. I will say that for some of those gentlemen of a certain age, who threw their hardhats and screamed at everybody, they also, once they understood your value and that you can help them with cost control and you can add value to their project, many times those gentlemen became your biggest advocates. You see this evolution from “I can’t talk to her” to “I can only work with Tiffanie because she’s the only one who understands my needs and can solve my problem.” I saw that evolution start to happen in the early 2000s and then as it has continued, many of those gentlemen are no longer in the workforce. The persons who have come into the industry have a much better understanding about how to conduct themselves professionally. It’s not about being politically correct, it’s about a culture of inclusion that allows people to experience a sense of belonging and bring their authentic selves to the workplace, which has a tangible business reason to do it in addition to just being the right thing. That’s where we are getting to. I will say that in the rare instances where there has been sexual banter or somebody being wildly inappropriate in the workplace, whether it’s been a client or, very infrequently, a team member, there was always a male advocate there to step in a shut it down. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by some husbands, fathers and advocates who say, “I’ve got daughters of my own and I know what they’re going through, I’m not going to let this go on and let this happen on my watch.” As many of those challenged persons as there were in the industry even back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were an equal or if not greater number of gentlemen who conducted themselves as gentlemen and advocates for women. I’m pleased to see that not only just for females but also for persons of color, veterans, persons with disabilities, neuro-diversity and the LGBTQ community.
MB: Echo everything already said by the group. There have been instances where I’m giving a presentation, but my male boss happens to be in the room and at the end of presentation, the people are addressing questions to him and not me. It happens less as time goes on. As others have said, as people retire, the old guard is leaving and new stewards are coming in. Plus, when people get to know who you are, that won’t happen any longer. I will share this story. There are some individuals who are not used to working with women or they are just confrontational in general, whether it’s a man or woman. I did a presentation in 2017 on a project. It was at a CWEA regional seminar. Gave a great presentation. I explained the project and successes of it. There were about 40 people in the room and at the end, the first person to say anything was a man. He said, “Wow, that was the best presentation I ever heard a woman give!” I thought for a minute and threw the statement back at him and said, “The best presentation you ever heard a woman give?” I needed to say something back to him, as everyone was watching me with wide eyes, but I didn’t want to react too strongly. The way I did it was subtle enough because he then realized how it sounded. He said, “Well, you just really seemed knowledgeable. You seemed to really know your stuff. There’s not a lot of women in the industry.” He went on and on. He asked what my experience was and background. I explained my background, and the situation was smoothed it over. At the end of the meeting, people came up to me and said, “I can’t believe he said that, etc.” I don’t think he meant it to sound the way it did. That is a good lesson: Don’t overact, but respond. I threw the statement back at him as a question. I protected my integrity so it didn’t look as if I was bowled over by a backhanded comment, and gave him a chance to recover in the eyes of the others. My biggest advice is to take a pause. Don’t let someone give you a backhanded compliment or attack you. Shut it down. It will happen at some point. Be prepared on how you are going to respond. But do respond, professionally.
What are the advantages to being a woman working in the construction industry?
MB: In my job as a construction professional, it is a very visible position. If you are trying to advance in the industry and obtain new customers, you are visible. I post photos of myself at jobsites on LinkedIn. It really helps people know you. And there’s a lot of power in that. I have had people at conferences saying, “Oh, I love your posts on Linkedin.” I might post once a month but people remember and see you are active. So, you become recognizable, and you have a lot of power in that. I get asked to present at conferences and I love to teach and share information. I think there is a lot of visibility in being a woman in a male-dominated industry. Back to the organization part, women are great planners. We can really plan projects well and you get respect from your coworkers because you are efficient and organized.
TM: For me, the advantage of being a woman in construction and trenchless is advocacy. It’s being able advocate for other women and to see the challenges or the opportunity being provided disproportionately and then do something about it. The more visible you can be, as Michelle said, and the more advocacy you can provide and use your influence to help not just women but other persons of diversity to advance within or industry: for tangible reasons of creativity do we want to appeal to the mosaic of the community. The reason construction has been white, male dominated for so long is because other persons, other diverse persons don’t see it as a viable alternative, based on what they see. Many times, women and other diverse candidates say this isn’t some place I want to be because I won’t feel like I belong here. But we have an opportunity as women, mature women in the industry who have built our careers, to say, “Let me be the one to show people how it can look differently.” We certainly see that reflected at this conference. We certainly see it in the industry now that our advocacy is working and we can continue to leverage that. The other thing I would add is authenticity. What’s worked well for me is always being authentically me. I’ve never tried to be one of the boys. And that has worked to my advantage because I want to be respected as a woman. As a woman, I want to wear jewelry, I want to do all the girl things. And I can still work here but I don’t need to be like my male counterparts be a teammate and an advocate and a trusted colleague.
CP: I feel like an advantage is being a woman who has seen a transformation in the time that I’ve been involved in the industry. I’m able to impart and share that experience with younger generations who are very, very concerned about DEI, but don’t know or realize that there actually has been progress over time.
AR: I think there is a big advantage in being a woman because it does bring that diversity, which means we bring a different lens. Our different experiences allow us to see projects or how something might go in a different way. This is the whole point of bringing diversity into the workplace; you get more perspectives and you find different ways of doing things. Just by nature of not having the exact same experience in life as your colleagues means you already approach things differently. There is that advantage and you can really stand out as a contributor. The other thing is when you are in a male dominated field, as a woman, people remember you. You already stand out. We often put a great deal of pressure on ourselves to fit in, in general, in society. But this is why I always loved being in operations and in construction — there was less expectation and pressure on myself for fitting in because by very nature of being female, I already didn’t. It gave me a lot of freedom to just be myself, which as Tiffanie was saying, that’s where you get your best work and your best contribution, when you are in that comfort zone. If you embrace that, you can really use it to your advantage.
SNT: I just think that there is a great advantage to being in the trenchless industry right now, in general. The fact that I’m a woman in this industry is exciting and interesting because it is growing so much and it’s the right way to do things. I get to participate in a time where people are paying attention to it and we can bring innovative and creative solutions to every project that we. I love being in those conversations with the whole group where we have an open conversation and people are more open and being themselves, coming up with some great ideas because it’s never been done before. And I get that on a daily basis. I think that really an advantage, not just to being a woman right now but just being in the industry. It’s pretty exciting.
How do you think the construction/trenchless industry can attract more female candidates going forward?
SNT: By doing things like we’re doing today. By showing women and diverse groups that you can fit in, you can help build a diverse and collaborative culture. Don’t discount construction because you are different than what you think the industry accepts. The more of women the better. The more ideas the better. I’m looking forward to more diversity.
AR: It’s the visibility. It’s always an interesting problem. We talk about this with engineering in general. It’s a big topic because you have to get to women so much younger than we sometimes do. We are having more women come into engineering school but it’s stagnated a little bit because it was roughly 25 percent when I went into civil engineering in 1999, and that seems to be where it is now. Although, there was a university in Canada that reached 50 percent female registration in engineering recently. There have been strides. So, there is that — having women seeing it as a viable career path. There is also showing that this is a good industry to continue in once they graduate, making sure that we have the supports there. I think a good example is policies around maternity and parental leave. In our workplace, we are seeing a lot more sharing between moms and dads. So that is helping by lessening that belief by young women of ‘I can’t go into this field or that because I want to have kids’, etc. We’re seeing much less of that attitude. It’s becoming less and less of a perceived barrier.
CP: This is where I get a little bit uncomfortable because I feel like we need more people interested in engineering, and trenchless, in general. I don’t think that the need is specific to women or otherwise. We need smart people to get into the field. Specific to trenchless, I am mentoring two individuals at my company who happen to be women, but I’m really just trying to get more people interested in trenchless and show them how amazing trenchless is for so many reasons. So that’s a big reason why I’m making a concerted effort to mentor. I would mentor even more people but it takes a lot on top of my workload; it’s a formal mentorship program, so I’m capping it at two for now.
TM: I think that every case study and success story that we can share, everything we can make public around women having success in construction and trenchless is a catalyst for more women seeing it as a viable career opportunity. I was fortunate. In 2013, I did a brief stint at an environmental remediation company. The CEO was Ferdinand Seeman. I told him, “You won’t want to hire me because I’m four months pregnant.” He said, you said you were going to come over when we got our venture capital and we don’t care if you are pregnant. We just want you. I left Sunbelt for two years to do this remediation startup. The first project we had was a solvent removal job and I was 8 1/2 months pregnant doing the preconstruction meeting. This is a story I often share with other females. I was the construction manager in charge. It was my project. In the positions that we are in now, we have the opportunity to share those stories with others and to create that environment.
MB: I like to volunteer to speak to students at universities. I just did a presentation at Cal-Poly Pomona. None of them had had any coursework in wastewater or trenchless, but they got excited about the technology we have in sewers. Most schools these days are building centric — construction of buildings, not pipelines. I started my presentation with the basics, like what is asset management. Almost every project in every industry starts from asset management: How do we maintain things so they don’t fail. The students got excited about asset management. They got excited about pipes and wastewater. Therefore, getting in front of people, men and women, is a great way to attract new faces. We want them to come work for us. Social media is also a great tool I post a lot of photos and make videos of our projects. That visibility is important — they ‘see’ a woman with men in a pipe, all suited up. Some think it’s pretty cool and important stuff and they think “I can do that because she’s doing it!” The younger generation uses social media extensively. Let’s use that to our advantage to attract workers to our industry.
What is it about trenchless technology that keeps excited and involved?
CP: Honestly, it is NASTT and No-Dig. That is what has kept me engaged. Especially the innovative product awards, because they showcase innovative products every year at No-Dig, where there’s a nice cross-section of new installations and rehabilitation. You get to see how fast technology moves in the industry. You’re better able to keep your finger on the pulse by attending, and even perhaps influence technological advances by imparting feedback to manufacturers and vendors. Also, the opportunities for networking have opened up my whole career. My career is largely about the relationships I’ve built and the resources available to me, much of which is through NASTT. I’m not paid by NASTT but honestly, I am who I am in my career because of that organization. I can say that wholeheartedly. NASTT really makes a difference in this industry.
AR: When I got involved, a lot of the technology was really new to London. We had done smaller projects but we were just ramping up. So, it was a way for me to get involved in something that was really innovative for the city and to be on the forefront of something special and really establish a career path. The No-Dig shows were a huge part of that as well as the trenchless roadshows. Also, the people. When I came here, the people were so welcoming. The contractors were great about teaching you about it. Everyone was so excited about what they were doing and how the technology has evolved. Now I come in and we are talking about AI inspection and how that’s going to be the next big change for a lot of the work we do at the city. Just when you think you’ve been using all these technologies and we got a track record, something changes and now it’s the next leap forward. And you just don’t get that in other aspects of construction right now to the same degree or pace. It’s just an exciting industry to be in.
SNT: What keeps me excited about it is that it’s challenging and it’s innovative. Every project allows me the opportunity to strengthen or build new relationships to help me solve problems. No Dig and NASTT, as well as my daily work allows me to work collaboratively with suppliers, engineers and other contractors and it’s so much fun. I enjoy every single day. After 23 years, I still like it. Sure, there are days I would rather just go skiing in the middle of the week but I do come to work excited every day. The other part that is exciting to me is that I’ve got people coming up through my business who I’m mentoring to take over on the next level and I’m excited to see what they are going to do. And the solutions they are going to come with. It’s never the same.
MB: I’ve always been a bit of a natural teacher. I like to teach and help. It’s really nice that I have this whole network of cities that can call me and ask me questions and advice, and I can in return give them good tips that will save them a lot of money. I love that I’m a resource, but I have this great network that I can call on to ask questions, too. And that gets me excited about new services and cool projects. It’s rewarding to watch an idea or project take shape and have an impact.
TM: Two things keep me involved and motivated in trenchless. First, it’s the people. The people you get to be with, who you get to meet and work with every day — teammates, clients, suppliers, vendors. Everybody. It’s an amazing group of grounded professionals. It’s amazing to have this network. I echo what Cindy said about NASTT and the opportunity to gather and share. It’s been a huge boost for me and my career. If I hadn’t been given the opportunity and empowered by my employer, my career would not be where it is today. That kind of empowerment and support is what keeps me motivated; it’s the advocacy of our company and teammates. Secondly, the technology and what we do. And the fact that all the people we work with are so excited. They are so excited about this industry. You see it in the presentations and the energy.
What advice would you give any younger woman entering construction/trenchless?
AR: If something sparks your interest, catches your attention, give it a try. Don’t worry about being the only woman in the room because 1) you get used to it and 2) it won’t be that way forever. Yes, there are challenges and frustrations sometimes but the benefits more than outweigh those.
SNT: Don’t second-guess yourself, just do it. And if you have any questions, just call me.
CP: Speak up. You may have questions, and you may be a little bit lost in a conversation. Speak up because nine times out of 10, someone next to you is going to say, “thank you for asking that, I had the same question.” Give yourself a voice.
TM: Arrive early and just do the best you can with every single day. If you look at yourself in the mirror at night and you can say, “I did everything I could today to move business forward, tonight I’m going to sleep well knowing that, and tomorrow I’m going out there and do the most I can again, and, when I have the opportunity to do so, I’m going to be an advocate for others.”
MB: The most important thing is self-confidence and the relationships that you build and maintain. Your relationships will support you and protect you…they’ll fight for you and you will for them.
Recognizing Women in Trenchless
Charlotte Colorito Senior Product Engineer, Super Products
Charlotte Colorito attended the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2017. And from the start, she has worked solely in the manufacturing industry, but her introduction to trenchless technology came after she joined Super Products, an Alamo Group Company, in 2019. She joined the company as a Design Engineer with a focus on new product development. Read More
Lisa Pike, Sr. Project Manager, Clearwater Municipal Services
Lisa Pike began her trenchless career in 2006 working as a field technician performing fog testing and MH inspections for D.M. Robichaud Associates Ltd (DMR). With her new-found understanding of gravity sewers, she moved to the office becoming a data technologist producing the company’s CCTV deliverable reporting packages and assisting with the operations department. She then progressed into co-ordination duties where she was soon promoted to project coordinator and eventually project manager in 2015. Read More
Cori Criss, President, ITpipes
Cori Criss is a senior entrepreneurial executive with more than 25 years of experience in the infrastructure data management industry. Cori is the President of ITpipes, a renowned software company specializing in innovative solutions for the management and inspection of underground infrastructure. With a deep passion for leveraging technology to solve complex challenges, Cori has made significant contributions to underground asset management. Read More
Michelle Walker, CCIFP, CRIS, SPHR, Vice President of Operations, SSC Underground
Michelle Walker serves as the Vice President of Operations at SSC Underground, an Arizona trenchless technology company that offers trenchless installations via auger boring, TBM, pilot-tube auger boring, hand tunneling and SBU, along with a full-service vacuum excavation and SUE division. With 25 years’ experience working in the underground construction environment, she brings specialized knowledge from both a business and technical perspective to safety, project management, and logistical issues. Read More