Confidence and self-awareness are the traits that elevate a woman breaking into engineering or construction management, a group of women in the field told LSU students during a panel Thursday evening.
The “Women in Engineering” panel featured six Baton Rouge women who are members of the local engineering and construction management workforce. The event, sponsored by the LSU Bert S. Turner Department of Construction Management, was designed to provide advice to women in two male-dominated fields. Nationally, just 13% of engineers are female and they make up but 9% of the construction management workforce.
Women are often unaware of their abilities, said Kimberly Williams, an online programs manager and instructor in the department. But it’s important to be intentional in your development, leveraging your strengths when necessary and remembering your diverse perspective matters.
As an African-American woman from Louisiana, Theda Daniels-Race, now a professor in the LSU Division of Electrical & Computer Engineering, said every once in awhile she “caught micro-aggressions from all sides.” And while she learned how to embrace criticism over the years, she said sometimes women in the field are too willing to take criticism and should find a healthy balance.
“I quickly embraced me,” said Karen Zito, president and CEO of the Capital Region Builders Association. “You can’t be anybody else but who you are, and knowing that gave me confidence.”
The panelists also discussed the best ways to navigate power structures in the male-dominated fields.
When Carol Smith, now co-owner of Harvey Smith Construction, Inc., was growing up, women didn’t go into engineering or construction management. While noting she’s always been well-respected in her field—her male coworkers saw her hand-drilling asbestos siding as a teenager—she said women today should take advantage of the educational opportunities available to them as a way to advance in their careers.
Jaelynn LeBlanc, a recent LSU graduate and project engineer at MAPP Construction, encouraged attendees to make lasting connections with their coworkers and professional mentors. She said she goes around the office and asks her colleagues if they need any help with a project as a way of letting them know she wants to absorb the knowledge they have to offer.
“I knew when not to say something and I knew when to say something,” said Stephanie Heumann, an instructor in LSU’s construction management department. “Sometimes, silence has more power than you realize, and people give you more credit when you speak.”