Linda Force has seen it all in civil engineering, from $1-an-hour wages in the 1960s to life as the CEO. Along the way, she’s learned not to suffer fools gladly.
She remembers earlier in her career, inspecting a warehouse in Oakland after an earthquake. The place was a mess – the horizontal trusses shattered, the ceiling caving in.
Force, the lead investigator – and, yes, as her first name suggests, a woman – urgently sought the superintendent with her report.
“I said, ‘How do you do? I’m Linda Force. This building is about to collapse. You need to get your people out of here,’” Force said.
“The first words out of his mouth were, ‘Well, who do you think you are, girlie, telling me what to do?’
“I said, ‘I’m the girlie who’s gonna call the police to come drag you out of here if you’re not out in 30 minutes.’”
In January, the ASCE Board of Direction convened with three women at the head table, leading the meeting. For the first time in the Society’s 165 years, all three presidential officers are women – President Kristina Swallow, President-Elect Robin Kemper, and Past-President Norma Jean Mattei.
“This is for all the little girls out there thinking they want to be an engineer and knowing there’s a path for them,” Swallow told the crowd at the ASCE 2017 Convention in New Orleans to huge applause during her presidential induction ceremony.
Civil engineers like Linda Force, like Kristina Swallow, like Norma Jean Mattei, like Robin Kemper, they’ve broken barriers. They’ve crashed through that mythical glass ceiling.
But with women composing just 14.4 percent of the civil engineering workforce, according to the 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics population survey data, it’s clear that these leaders remain the exception and not yet the new normal.
It would seem a perfect time, then, to explore the state of the profession for women; the strides the profession has made toward gender equality and the challenges that still exist?
So, ASCE News is launching a series this month, Women in Civil Engineering. We started, like any good investigation, by following the money. The 2017 ASCE Salary Survey provides a surprising look into the gender wage gap.
And then we talked to ASCE members. We collected your insights and perspectives about the issues you’ve faced throughout your careers – what’s changed, and what still needs to improve.
The questions are not new. The engineering profession has been examining these issues for decades. But there’s no doubt these topics remain relevant. We reached out to women in the Society, asking them to contribute headshots for a photo mosaic. We were hoping for about 200 photos. Within a week, we’d received more than 1,200. Clearly, these are subjects close to the heart for many civil engineers.
In that spirit, we’d love to hear from you.
We’re encouraging women to post a photo of yourself working in the field to social media using the #HerEngineering hashtag.
And women and men, please join the conversation over at ASCE Collaborate.
As Shelia Mills-Montgomery so eloquently said in the Collaborate forum, “There is no one correct answer to any of the questions. Each affected, female or male, has their own experiences to pull from and will likely have widely varying opinions. That is why the discussion is the key.”
Click on a headline icon to read each story. We’ll be updating this page throughout March with new content: