(Ask the Experts) Women in construction overcome obstacles, innovate for change
Women in Construction Week takes place the first full week in March, celebrating the history of women in the industry who faced tremendous challenges in a traditionally male-dominated field. In this issue of NH Business Review, we learn from an expert in the field who shares insights and perspectives on what it’s like for women in construction today, and how they’re helping to foster inclusivity, develop talent and innovate for the future.
Our expert: Jennifer F. Porter, PE, senior project engineer for civil/traffic, TFMoran Inc.
Q: What led you to choose a career in engineering?
A: Throughout high school I always thought my future career would be in the sky, as I wanted to be a pilot and go to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to study.
Sometime during my junior year in the early ‘90s, I attended a Women in Engineering Symposium at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord, NH. That day inspired me and shifted my interests back on the ground to the field of engineering.
When I enrolled at Bucknell University, I was unsure if civil or mechanical engineering was the correct path for me. Luckily, Bucknell requires all potential engineering students to take Engineering 101, a class that explores all disciplines of engineering with weekly hands-on problem-solving labs. It didn’t take long for me to decide to pursue civil engineering.
These early opportunities and hands-on learning not only taught me the skills required for my course work but also set the foundation for my future in engineering. The many hours of traditional academics and practical labs, in addition to my collegiate sports career — I was a member of the Track and Field team — helped me sort priorities and budget time; attributes that would serve me well in my profession. My engineering class had a very high percentage of women enrolled, and it’s where I developed some of my best friendships, many of which went on to be very successful women in the field of engineering.
Q. How can the construction industry attract and retain more women professionals, ensuring a diverse and inclusive workforce that enhances creativity and productivity?
A. Providing opportunities that introduce girls/women to construction and engineering opportunities can be the spark that changes the course of thinking for a young person. Many women do not consider the construction industry based on the simple lack of knowing it is an option. Having a sound understanding of basic construction and engineering principles and receiving proper training early in your career is key to establishing confidence and comfort in the construction environment. Providing resources for mentorship, male or female, can also make a tremendous difference to a new engineer starting out, so providing this resource is pivotal to women entering into the profession and staying with it.
I’ve had the pleasure of working for my current employer, TFMoran, for over 25 years. It has been my first (and only) engineering job since college graduation. I started at entry level in the office, running errands, making prints and reading regulations. I asked a lot of questions.
At TFM, I have had great mentors to educate and support me in my career. Teaching by example, showing patience, providing opportunity and pushing me to be a problem-solver by asking the right question and seeking out the answer. They provided me with challenges and the support I needed to grow as an engineer and a person. I am proud to be part of the team at TFM.
With the good also comes the bad, as I have had encounters in my career where my job experience appeared to be questioned due solely on my gender. When confronted with such a moment, I have felt I had two choices: deflect or stand tall. I have not let those moments define me, and have used each opportunity to build confidence and a greater belief in myself. To treat others with respect, setting boundaries to form positive relationships based on trust, and to project the confidence my experience and knowledge should garner after 25 years in the field of engineering. Much like the values my parents instilled in me, and I hope to inspire in my children, I choose to be fair and respectful to others. We should all expect nothing less. Treat everyone as you want to be treated.
Q. What initiatives or programs have proven effective in breaking down barriers and biases, promoting skill development, and providing equal opportunities for women pursuing careers in construction?
A. Educating men and women that intelligence is not defined by gender. Providing a company culture that brings everyone on the team to the table on equal ground and treated with respect. Engineers are engineers, period.