"If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." Milton Berle
“I’ve never thought of myself as a female engineer or founder …. I just think of myself as someone who’s passionate. ”
“The road to success is always under construction.”
“If you’re passionate about something and want to make a difference, I guarantee there’s a way to do that with engineering.”
Queen Elizabeth II
“At its heart, engineering is about using science to find creative practical solutions. It is a noble profession.”
Women in Civil Engineering: Current State and Future Trends
By: Bethany D. Merillat, MS, MEd
How many female civil engineers do you know? According to a report by the National Science Board (1) while women make up over half of the total number of US college-educated workforce, only 29% of the science and engineering workforce is female.
Although this may be an improvement on past numbers – less than 1% of all engineers in the US were women prior to 1970 – the change has been slow (5), especially in the area of civil engineering.
Overall, only 17.5% of civil, architectural, and sanitary engineers are women – not surprising considering that in 2012, only 19.3% of all bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering were awarded to women (1). This under-representation of women in engineering fields in general has also been noted in many other countries across the world (4) such as the UK (12, 13) and India (14).
The disparity does not stop there. Research by the IPENZ found that female engineers tend to have shorter engineering careers than do men (4, 9), and another study by the Society of Women Engineers (analyzing data from the National Science Foundation) found that 20 years after entering the field, women who earned a bachelors in engineering were less likely than their male peers to still be employed in an engineering field (6).
Making matters worse, over 60% of women who leave cite dissatisfaction with pay and promotion opportunities as the reason for their departure (4, 9). This coincides with statements by ASCE’s President Kristen Swallows who reported that she believes there are, “fewer opportunities,” and, “…fewer openings at that [mid] level,” (2) and Betty Vetter’s statement that despite making strides in the engineering field,”… the climate remains generally inhospitable in most employment situations” (6).
While over 70% of male respondents at 21 engineering colleges across the country reported believing that men and women are treated equally for performing the same jobs, only 39% of the women felt this was the case (10). Further, Data USA reports that while the average male civil engineering salary is $88,493, the average female salary is only $73, 404 (8).
Why do these barriers and discrepancies exist? While there are many different arguments proposed, one that remains persistent is the societal view of the role. Researchers Danielle Grimes and Dr. Mohammadi-Aragh found that stereotype-threat and peer expectations, along with societal pressures still create a formidable barrier to women entering the engineering profession (3).
Some believe that the best way to confront and change these views is to create an open dialogue and expose more women to the field. Supporting this idea, a study by Atkins found that 4 out of every 10 female engineers has a connection who was also an engineer, suggesting that role models may help break down the stigmas surrounding civil engineering as a male only profession (7).
In light of this, influential leaders in the field, like ASCE President Kristen Swallows, have been speaking up, trying to get the word out about barriers to their own career, and how to encourage more women to pursue the profession. Kristen has spent the past year flying across the country in order to connect with young ASCE members, speak with students and advocate for infrastructure.
Despite her efforts, a significant number of barriers still exist. However, in recent years, an interesting trend has emerged with civil engineering beginning to attract more women than other engineering fields (7). While a study in the UK found that while the overall level of women in the workforce was low, around 5.6%, 15.3% of all civil engineers there were female (11).
Lani Tan, a project field engineer at Bechtel, attributes this to the clear connection between the career and helping others, something Lani thinks makes the segment of civil engineering more appealing to women (7).
In her own words, “It is easy to see how the work of civil engineers improves the lives of so many people…Other disciplines may not be perceived to be directly helping people in this way” (7).
Therefore, education about the role of a civil engineer, paired with a mentorship model in a constructive, supportive environment, may help foster a more positive view of the role, and help retain more female engineers in the field.
Women and Northwest Consultants
Daniel J. Griest, EI
Education: BS, Civil Engineering, The University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio, 2012
Professional Registrations: Engineer in Training (EI)
Service: Unites States Army Reserve 2012-2018
Years of Experience:
Total - 5
With NCI - 5
As a project engineer, Mr. Griest has been involved in a number of transportation projects and specializes in the areas of roadway design, drainage, traffic control, maintenance of traffic, and right-of-way design. On past projects for ODOT and other local agencies he has completed services for every phase of the design process; from topographic survey and establishment of the existing conditions to development of the final design plans. Mr. Griest also has experience with surveying and has performed topographic, supplemental, drainage, construction staking, and GPS surveys.
An Interview with Darcy
Where are you from originally?
I’m originally from Michigan. I graduated from Saline High School and then Michigan State University.
What got you interested in Engineering? When did you know you wanted to be an engineer?
At first, I wanted to be an architect and design buildings – My father built custom homes for a living and I would always spend at least part of my summers helping him since I was in middle school. In high school I started taking drafting classes and learned how to use AutoCAD and some other design programs and really enjoyed and did really well in those classes. About the time I started applying to colleges was when I decided to go the engineering route instead of liberal arts and architecture.
Did you have any family members who were engineers/mentors?
No other family members are engineers. My father always wanted to be an engineer. He understands a lot more of the technical side of my job from working in construction than anyone else and was always very interested in what my classes in college were about. So he wasn’t an engineer, but definitely was a mentor and huge influence on why I wanted to be an engineer.
Did you ever feel any stigma toward being an engineer, or get any comments from others that it was not a field for women (both as a child/adult)?
My mother worked in a very male dominated business so I never felt like I couldn’t be whatever I wanted to be as a child. In college, some people of an older generation would make comments about it but it was never anything I took too seriously. If anything, it was just more motivation to prove to them that I was fully capable of being an engineer.
What was college like for you? Did the male-dominated environment ever cause you to question your competency as compared to your male peers?
College was great. The majority of my friends in college were my classmates and happened to be men. (There were less than a half dozen women in my graduating class, with roughly 40 people.) I was probably the youngest person in my graduating class as well. I completed my degree in four years where the civil engineering program typically took five years. I also was a member of Chi Epsilon, the Honors Fraternity for Civil Engineering.
I never once questioned my competency against my peers. Sure there were people that did better in certain classes but that never affected me or made me want to not pursue my goals.
Do you mind being the only female at your office? Are you excited to have another female engineer joining the team at your office?
I don’t mind being the only female in the Indy office. Nothing really happens where that matters so I don’t really think about it too much. When I started working at NCI, Jennifer was in our office so for a number of years there were two women here. I think it’s always exciting to have someone new come in, just changes the dynamic of the office, hopefully in a good way. Plus we don’t see new people very often having as small of an office as we do here.
What is it like to balance being a mom and an engineer? Do you think this could be a reason why many women leave the career?
It’s definitely different than before I had my daughter. Babies change more about your life than anyone can ever tell you. There’s a lot more that needs to happen in the mornings before I can walk out the door and that can cause a lot of stress. Figuring out the best schedule and being able to stick to that schedule to the minute every morning is difficult. During the week is especially hard sometimes when you get home and have housework to do, dinner to make, and a baby that only wants to be held by her mom. I think every working mom deals with a lot of that regardless of their profession.
I would love to stay home with my daughter. I miss her during the day and sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on the time where she’s little and wants to held and carried around. It’s hard to leave them in someone else’s care when you feel like you are the one to give them the best care. Also, daycare isn’t cheap. When we were considering different option between daycare versus home care, a stay at home parent was an option. Daycare worked out to be the best option for us, but I think that additional cost causes a lot of parents to quit their jobs.
Do you believe NCI treats women fairly in terms of work load, salary, etc.?
I’ve never had any reason to question whether I’m treated any differently because I’m a woman. As far as I am aware, I believe I’m treated the same as any other engineer with my qualifications within the company.
What do you think could be done to attract more women to engineering? Do mentors help? Do you see the field changing or not?
Absolutely. More women are working than previous generations and I think as future generations see that.
What do you like most about NCI?
I like that it’s a smaller company. Everyone is easy to talk to and work with.
Darcy spends most of her time outside of work with her husband and daughter. As they live in downtown Carmel, they like to walk to restaurants or take their dog, an English mastiff named Leonidas, on walks. Other hobbies include…
Circle City Curling Club
- National Science Board. 2016. Science and Engineering Indicators 2016. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation (NSB-2016-1).
- Walpole, B. (2018, March 15). Presidential Q&A – Kristina Swallow on women in civil engineering. ASCE News. Retrieved from http://news.asce.org/presidential-qa-kristina-swallow-on-women-in-civil-engineering/
- Grimes, D., & Mohammadi-Aragh, J. (2017). A Discussion of the Barriers Present to Female Engineering Students. San Juan, Puerto Rico: 2017 ASEE Zone II Conference.
- Fernando, A. (2011). Perception of barriers to career progression by women engineers and engineering students. In ICWES 15: The 15th International Conference for Women Engineers and Scientists(p. 1). Engineers Australia.
- Layne, P. (2010). Special Issue on Women in Civil Engineering. Leadership and Management in Engineering, 10(4), 139-140. doi:10.1061/(asce)lm.1943-5630.0000084
- Vetter, B. M. (1993). “Exploring the corporate climate for women engineers.” Proc., Women in Engineering ProActive Network National Conference. Washington D.C.
- Excell, J. (2015, June 22). Bucking the trend: why the civil sector has more female engineers. The Engineer. Retrieved from https://www.theengineer.co.uk/issues/june-2015-online/bucking-the-trend-why-the-civil-sector-has-more-female-engineers/
- Data USA. (2018). Civil engineers. Retrieved from https://datausa.io/profile/soc/172051/
- (2009). IPENZ Women in Engineering Survey. Engineering Dimension, Feb (78), 1,3-5.
- Frehill, L. (2007, October) “Is the engineering workplace ‘warming’ for women?” SWE Magazine, pp. 16–20.
- Kumar, A., Randerson, N., & Kiwana, L. (2014). Engineering UK 2014: The state of engineering. Retrieved from Engineering UK website: https://www.engineeringuk.com/media/1468/2014-engineering-uk-full-report-interactive.pdf
- (2010a). Engineering UK to investigate why UK has lowest number of female engineers in the whole of Europe – Media release – 21Apr Retrieved from http://www.engineeringuk.com/_db/_documents/Final_CRAC_PR_210410_v2BE_%2 84%29.pdf
- (2010b). UK has Lowest Number of Female Engineers in Whole of Europe – June Retrieved from
- Pareek, S. (2007). Why we need more women engineers Hindustani Times. Retrieved from http://www.hindustantimes.com/Why-we-need-more-women-engineers/Article1- 215639.aspx