Historically a male-dominated profession, women continue to make inroads, especially in the trenchless industry.
Glass ceilings are being broken all over the place these days, whether at one of the highest offices in world, such Vice President of United States, or just in everyday life.
Our corner of the world involves engineering and construction. Both industries have historically been dominated and led by men. According to the Society of Women’s Engineer’s website, 13 percent of engineers are women. The times in these industries are changing as more and more women choose to pursue engineering careers, seeking their professional fortunes; many of these career paths are being forged and established in the trenchless industry with increased numbers ascending to key leadership roles.
Seeing women donning hard hats and on the jobsite is not such an unusual sight in 2021. That wasn’t always the case. We’ve all heard stories of “mansplaining” and stereotyped attitudes toward women in the construction world.
Thankfully, those attitudes have evolved and the professionalism of accepting women in roles historically filled by males continues evolve and grow.
June 23 marks International Women in Engineering Day. The day was created in 2017 by the Women’s Engineering Society in the United Kingdom after the launch of a national U.K. women in engineering day three years earlier drew enormous interest and celebration. International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) was born to enable the celebration of women in engineering to become global.
We spoke to five female engineers in the trenchless industry, learning how they came to call engineering home and gaining perspective on the attitudes noted above.
They are not new to engineering, with their careers firmly established. They also spoke of the need for more female mentors in the engineering field, to inspire, push and encourage more females to pursue engineering as a career. They are all proud to assist and mentor the next generation of female engineers.
Here is one of their stories.
Anna Pridmore, P.E., Ph.D., knew she was destined to be an engineer from a pretty early age: second grade. She says it was her combined love of math and building things that attracted her to the profession she enjoys and excels in today.
“I would get home [from school] and excitedly tell my grandmother, ‘Oh boy, I have math homework!,’” Pridmore remembers. “As early as I can remember, I spent my free time working with my family doing hands-on design and construction projects. It was this combination of my love for math and construction that drove me to an engineering profession. And to this day, design and construction are also still my favorite free time activities.”
Pridmore graduated from the University of California, San Diego, in 2009, with a Ph.D. in structural engineering, with a focus in advanced composites, design, material science and structural analysis. Today, she is vice president-pipeline and water infrastructure solutions at Structural Technologies. Since 2010, her career has focused on management of large-diameter pipelines, including condition assessment, repair and long-term renewal, using carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP).
“I love looking at a problem that looks overwhelmingly complex — with no path forward — and breaking it into each of its subpieces and building a roadmap to success as I work through the technical complexities for each piece, creating a path forward,” she shares.
Pridmore notes that engineering/construction continue to be male-dominated fields but believes the tide is turning a bit as more women and a diverse population enter these professions. Encouraging recruitment and advancement of these groups, particularly of women, is a passion of hers. She organized Women and Diversity in Engineering forums for the American Society of Civil Engineers, as well as panel discussions and networking events.
“The encouragement of women to pursue and continue careers in engineering/trenchless requires a multi-faceted approach which includes outreach, nurturing and mentoring,” Pridmore says. “It begins with outreach by professional organizations and societies to drive messaging to middle and high school-age females as they are beginning to make decisions about education and career paths.”
She adds that women who have advanced in their engineering/construction careers have a responsibility to step up and mentor the next generation of women. The role of mentors to young female engineers is paramount to keeping this core sector of engineers in the field. “The value of mentoring cannot be overstated because as women engineers drive to succeed, there will be unique challenges that we must face and overcome,” Pridmore states.
During her career, she says she experienced that feeling after a meeting or jobsite visit that she didn’t belong there because she was female — moments that have made her stronger and better. However, she has also observed a growing awareness of the challenges that women in engineering/construction face, saying we are on the cusp of a cultural shift within the workplace for women and other diverse groups. “This outlook is not a denial of where we are within our industry and the hard work that remains to be done,” Pridmore says. “Rather it is a recognition of how focusing on diversity and inclusion can create momentum that brings about real change.”
She notes that the true indicator of this culture shift is in the number of women who are in and, more importantly, are staying in the engineering field. “The number of times that I am the only woman in the room is steadily decreasing and, for me, this is a leading indicator in tracking progress,” Pridmore explains.
She says she’s proud of the leadership roles she serves at Structural Technologies and the organizations at which she volunteers. She wants others to attain similar success and beyond. “The people who say we can’t or shouldn’t or won’t be able to don’t drive our destiny — we do,” Pridmore says. “And the future of engineering for women is bright because outreach, nurturing and mentoring are things that are starting to happen and they will enable more women to choose and stay in the engineering profession.”