Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Aug. 4 issue of Women of NATE Today newsletter.
Did you know that roughly 49.5 percent of the world’s population is women? According to an article published by Institute for Women’s Policy Research (2018), only 7.2 percent of women worked full-time in male-dominated occupations in the United States. Male-dominated occupations are defined as those that include 25 percent or less women. In the report, engineering is the most male-dominated profession, as women engineers comprise only 15 percent of the engineering workforce. Being a woman engineer in a male-dominated industry has been a challenge in my professional life. Coming from minority group has made it even more challenging.
My career story starts with pursuing a degree in civil and structural engineering in 2003, when my father submitted my application to appear for the entrance exam for an engineering college. Like most teenagers, I had no knowledge of what I desired to do as an adult or as an occupation. I was leaning toward possibly pursuing a career in nursing. Even though civil engineering was not my first professional choice at that time, I completed three years at a technical college in Nepal, receiving a civil engineering associate’s degree.
No one in my family was in the engineering field, and I was a first-generation college graduate. After coming to United States to further my career, I continued my education, earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Although I had the choice of changing to another field of study, I liked the challenge and wanted to succeed in structural engineering. Throughout my education and time spent in the engineering field, I noticed that there was no abundance of women in structural engineering in comparison to men. You can find more female engineers in other fields of civil engineering, such as water, wastewater, transportation and geotechnical, than in structural and construction.
It was a little difficult to obtain a full-time job in 2009 because of the economic recession. Most of my friends decided to continue with obtaining a master’s of science degree in lieu of finding full-time employment in their fields. While I was in college, I was able to gain one-and-a-half years of experience working as an intern for an engineering company, which included projects for nuclear power plants, before graduation. I was able to find employment in late 2009 in the utility and telecommunications manufacturing industry as a design engineer.
Having this intern experience, coupled with a high GPA and my dedication, played a large role in securing my first career employment. Once there, I noticed that only a few women in the drafting department and only one female engineer in the utility department: me. It really hit home that this industry was dominated by men, and I would have to work hard to prove myself.
Leaping forward in time from the first internship job to now (13 years), I have moved up in positions and have been with several companies in different capacities such as design engineer, project engineer, senior telecommunication structure engineer, structural project manager, technical director and now principal structural engineer. Everywhere I have been employed, the number of female engineers was always less than male engineers.
Looking inward at the telecommunications industry, I have seen a lot of women in customer service, business development, sales, drafting and project management, but I still see few women in technical and engineering departments. The typical challenge women engineers face, as a minority, is to be heard. Many times, their great ideas or results are not fully trusted, vetted or included. These challenges are both in the workplace and with clients. It is harder to be heard as a woman engineer and, in my opinion, there is room for improvement. I have seen many improvements within management, companies and individually, but looking more broadly, there continues to be a need for future generations of woman to overcome these challenges.
The Leadership Summit held by Women of NATE (WON) is greatly empowering women in our industry. The motivational stories published in each monthly journal is helpful for onboarding females into our industry. I look forward supporting women in our industry and possibly becoming a mentor to young women engineers who may be facing challenges in their careers. It would be my pleasure to support WON in all that it does and to learn from the experience.
Jyoti Ojha is a member of the Women of NATE Committee and a principal structural engineer at CommScope in Euless, Texas. She can be reached at [email protected].