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.
Denise McClanahan, P.E., knew early on that she wanted to pursue a career as an engineer, thanks to friend’s father opening her eyes to the profession and what it offered.
“I grew up in a family that strongly encouraged me to achieve and to reach higher,” she relates. “When I was in the seventh grade, I shadowed a friend’s father for the day. He was a civil engineer from Purdue, running construction projects. I loved the variety of his work and especially the team aspect. I was instantly hooked and decided that day to travel the path I remain on today.”
McClanahan graduated with a bachelor of science from Purdue University and today is vice president of Granite Inliner LLC — a 700-plus member, infrastructure renewal solutions provider with 17 offices scattered across the United States and Canada. Granite Inliner focuses on cured-in-place pipe (CIPP), as well as provides other solutions including construction management, manhole renewal, geopolymer solutions, CCTV and cleaning services.
She loves her job and the trenchless industry and is excited to get to work in both every day. Not one to spend her day behind a desk, McClanahan would much rather grab a hard hat and safety vest and spend her time on a jobsite — where all the action is. She started her career as a consulting engineer but followed her heart into the field.
“While I would do the office work, my heart was in the field where I could see things come off paper or out of a spec book and constructed,” McClanahan explains.
She was exposed to the Inliner CIPP product and team while she was an inspector in 2001. She clicked with the people and intrigued by the product. She joined the Inliner team in 2002. “I always wanted a career where I felt I could make a difference,” McClanahan says. “I don’t like routine. Engineering and trenchless give me both of those.”
While engineering still may have more males vs. females overall, McClanahan says she doesn’t consider it a “male-dominated” field anymore and she doesn’t believe she has been treated differently because of her gender, noting only two instances in her 27-year career. Overall, you do the work and show you know your stuff and you should be treated fairly and professionally, she says.
What do young women need to see and hear about engineering and construction careers? “We need to continue to help young women understand that an engineering degree opens lots of doors,” she says. “Young women need to know engineers not only design and build but they also have careers in business development, marketing, safety, manufacturing and construction management, among others.”
Some student may be put off by the inclusion of math in the engineering curriculum. McClanahan advice: Don’t be. “We need to share that you don’t have to love math, you just need to survive classes and demonstrate your ability to think, create and solve problems. Young women need to know that having a career in engineering does not mean you have to sacrifice other things like having a family. It can all be done by staying true to yourself and surrounding yourself with the right people both in your personal and your work life. You just have to want it, be committed to it and flex a little along the way.”
McClanahan valued her mentors along the way and she notes how many more mentoring programs are available for everyone and they are critical in an engineer’s development.
“I have a been fortunate to work with teams who have and continue to see me as a valued team member who just happens to be a woman,” McClanahan says. “At the end of the day, we all must prove ourselves. That is something each of us can control and as we do that and build trust and rapport, good culture and positive attitudes follow.”