The ratio of men to women within STEM fields continues to reveal a gender gap, predominantly in the computer science and engineering fields, which make up the largest portion of the STEM workforce (Source: U.S. Census Bureau). Of the two, there has been greater progress in the computer science field, however, the gap between men and women in engineering has been slower to close.
Foth members are working to close the gender gap by paving the way for women in engineering. There are many leading the way by demonstrating excellence, supporting youth STEM programs, and sharing their experiences and love of engineering with others.
Susan Nilson, client director and winner of the 2021 Foth Leadership Award, describes why it is important for women to enter the engineering field and why it’s a shared responsibility to introduce young people to STEM fields.
Leadership is a very large part of being an engineer and often the most difficult to master. In college, we’re taught the technical skills of solving problems. We’re not taught the nuances of how to become leaders. Leadership skills are often learned on the job as we navigate relationships with co-workers, clients, and industry colleagues.
I’ve been fortunate to work with several great engineers and leaders so far in my career. I’ve had the support of strong women and men, which has allowed me to grow while making my own mistakes. In fact, one of my mentors is retiring next week after being in this industry for nearly 40 years. He strongly encouraged and supported my involvement in professional organizations as an EIT fresh out of college. I’m fortunate to have had his support early in my career. It has led to the relationships and friendships with other industry leaders that I have today.
Engineering presents so many opportunities to grow professionally and personally. I love the variety of projects we are exposed to, but my absolute favorite thing is to learn from so many different people and understand what is important to each of them. I use that information to help improve internal processes and communication between members.
At Foth, I’ve been encouraged to pursue different career interests and discover what my strengths are, so that I can help myself and our clients be more successful.
Shortly after earning my PE in the structural department, I had mentioned an interest pursuing project management at some point in my career. When a need arose for an assistant project manager on the largest project in Foth’s history, my supervisor immediately recommended me. She believed in my abilities to excel in the proposed position even if it meant I’d be leaving her department. The new position allowed me to make a positive impact on the project, and even earn a nomination for the Technical Achievement One Foth Annual Award. The new challenges and recognition for a job well done have made Foth stand out from previous experiences and I look forward to what my future in engineering will bring!
My kids obviously grew up with an engineer for a father and were exposed early to engineering as a rewarding profession. I am honored that both of them followed me into the field! My daughter, Molly, is perhaps an anomaly as she knew at an early age that she wanted to pursue a career in engineering, and followed through with a degree in mechanical engineering. My son, Tom, was less certain of his plans initially, but quickly migrated into civil engineering.
Growing up, my kids knew what I did and appreciated the flexibility inherent to engineering consulting. I was fortunate to offer them both summer employment in college, allowing them to experience engineering as a profession before graduation and develop their own networks and paths. Their experiences have both been extremely positive and they are proud of their choice of profession.
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