For the last 23 years when I sit down to write my monthly column, I start by writing the headline. Then I begin typing. The headline keeps me focused on the subject matter, even though I have a good idea about what I will write.
Quite often, my editor will change the headline. That’s OK since columnists are supposed to be good at writing, not at developing headlines. Editors are great at creating headlines after reading what I have written.
When I wrote this headline, which I hope my editor will keep, a strange thing happened. A song popped into my head. That song was John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas, War is Over.” The song starts out, “So this is Christmas and what have you done.”
The song came out in 1971 during my freshman year in college. It was a social conscience song during the Vietnam War. Maybe the song reminded me we are around the time of the holidays? Maybe it was a reminder of what was happening in 1971? It was during a time in this country when we questioned everything. One of those questions was, should women become engineers?
When I entered Stevens Institute of Technology, I became a part of the first class with women. I believe there were 18 women in my freshman class. I could be off, but it was just a few. If you were lucky, you might have a class with one or two women. That’s how few were enrolled.
All us men were excited there were women entering the engineering profession. In an era of social conscience, it seemed wrong women were not entering the industry. We were pioneering a new trend of having women as fellow students. We also were paying attention to the messages from John and Yoko.
Still work to do
When I graduated in 1975, there was a goal to increase the women in engineering to 25% of the workforce by the year 2000. I lauded the goal. However, in my first office, there were no female engineers. By my third firm, I vividly recall the hiring of the first female engineer. I was very excited, but a number of my old stodgy male colleagues started questioning why we had to fill a quota by hiring a woman.
I was incredulous at the attitude of some of my male colleagues. It wasn’t a quota, we hired a great engineer who happened to be female. I took my fellow engineer under my wing and let her know that I would protect her from the stupidity of some of her male colleagues who still were displeased with having a female engineer. She was — and still is — a brilliant engineer. As she often told me, “I have to be better than my male counterparts because I’m a woman.” While that was true, it is wrong.
I still run into my first female colleague more than 30 years later. We still are best friends. I still admire her work and how far she has come. That also is one of the reasons why I decided to join Women of ASPE or WOA.
Leading the way
WOA is chaired by Sarah Balz, P.E., who was one of the chapter presidents when I was president of ASPE. I was very proud of the fact that during my tenure, I had 10 women who were chapter presidents. No other ASPE president had more than two.
I called Sarah — pme’s 2014 Plumbing Engineer of the Year — one day and asked her to run for the ASPE Board of Directors. She is a brilliant engineer that I thought, and still do, would make a great future president of ASPE. I remember her response, which we still both laugh about. She said, “I’m sorry Julius, I’m pregnant with my second child.”
My response was, “Oh…..well congratulations. Still keep it in mind when the children get older.”
Sarah and her team are doing a great job promoting women in the plumbing engineering profession. They are helping to break down every barrier that may exist to promote their advancement in the profession.
Getting back to that 25% of the workforce by the year 2000. It never happened. We still don’t even have even have 25% female student enrollment in engineering curriculums. According to the American Society for Engineering Education, the female student enrollment has fluctuated around 20%.
According to a American Association of University Women report, in 2000 less than 10% of the engineering workforce was female. That means in our 25 years, we failed to make the inroads that should be made.
On a personal note, I have two daughters. Neither daughter was interested in the engineering profession. They had the aptitude, they just saw what their father did and decided to go in a different direction. I am still very proud of both of their accomplishments. But it would have been nice to have one engineer in the family. Maybe my granddaughter will enter the profession.
A few years ago, there was a headline that 40% of the women leave the engineering profession. As it turns out, the study wasn’t very valid since a large percentage of males also leave the engineering profession. The numbers are thought to be about the same.
However, what the study did show is some of the women were leaving the profession because of the poor work environment presented to women. That included hostility and the “good ‘ole boys” work culture. That was a wakeup call. It also is why you need to join WOA. It is time to build a wonderful work environment for both men and women.
WOA is open to both women and men. The group is fostering greater involvement by women engineers in the plumbing profession. Men can help reach this goal, as well as women. You owe it to your profession to help advance the involvement of women.
Getting back to John and Yoko, “And so happy Christmas, we hope you have fun. The near and the dear one, the old and the young.”
I wish you happy holiday season this year.