October President's Message
Tuesday, October 9, 2018
Posted by: Tim Hart
At the June 2016 SEAONC Business Meeting I had the honor of presenting Natalie Tse and Rose McClure with the Edwin G. Zacher Award for their work in creating and leading the SE3 Project, now the SE3 Committee. SE3 stands for Structural Engineering, Equity, and Engagement, and was originally established as an ad hoc group in 2015 to study the non-technical barriers that can prevent structural engineers from succeeding in their chosen profession. The study particularly sought to focus on learning why engineers leave the structural engineering profession before reaching management positions, in particular women, who are leaving at a disproportionally higher rate compared to their male colleagues.
In a little over a year, the SE3 group developed a charter and a set of goals and then developed an online survey on the workplace environment in structural engineering firms. The survey included focused questions pertaining to issues such as work/life balance; pay; the effect of family life and professional activities on one’s career; how engineers are hired, promoted, and retained; why engineers left or considered leaving the profession; and other topics related to the workplace environment. After studying the answers from the over 2,000 engineers who took the survey, the SE3 group, now a fully charged committee, went to work on developing programs and initiatives to address the issues and concerns that the survey had identified. These initiatives have included:
· Organizing discussions and presentations on the survey results to structural engineering associations across the country.
· Organizing and presenting a symposium in San Francisco with panel discussions on the key issues that were raised by the survey results.
· Organizing “speed mentoring” events where engineers with less than five years of experience could meet with more experienced engineers and receive career advice
· Writing and publishing a best practices guide that could be used by engineering firm leaders to improve the workplace environment in their firms. This can be found at http://www.se3project.org/best-practices.html.
· Working with the Business Forum to organize seminars focusing on business training and project management that were tailored specifically for structural engineers.
· Creating a web site, http://www.se3project.org/, to publish the study findings and follow-up reports, and provide a forum for discussion of work environment issues.
· Producing a video that features structural engineers talking about the survey results, what structural engineers do, and why they joined the profession.
· Assisting other structural engineering associations, including NCSEA, with creating their own equity and engagement committees.
Under the leadership of SEAONC members Angie Sommer and Nick Sherrow-Groves, the NCSEA SE3 Committee developed a new equity and engagement survey that was sent out to structural engineers across the nation a few months ago. The committee is now processing the results and analyzing the data.
The SEAONC SE3 Committee has remained busy as well. A few weeks ago, the committee submitted a draft report to the Board of a comprehensive study of the pay data from the 2016 survey. The Board has reviewed the document and provided comments back to the committee. The SE3 Committee has also organized a work/life balance symposium and assembled a stellar panel of structural engineers to discuss the challenges that they have faced balancing their careers with their personal and family lives. Registration is now open for the event, which will be at Thornton Tomasetti’s San Francisco office on Thursday, October 11. I am very much looking forward to this event and I hope you will be able to join us.
I cannot begin to describe how amazed I am of the work that has been done by the SEAONC SE3 Committee. I have never been involved in a committee or group, SEAONC or otherwise, that has as many motivated and dedicated volunteers as they have. I particularly admire them for their courage. Personnel topics such as gender equity, retention, promotion, and work/life balance tend to be very difficult for us to discuss outside of closed-door meetings within our firms. They typically have not been discussed in the open very often, if at all. This silence could be interpreted as an indication that there are no industry wide issues, that there is nothing in fact to talk about. Perhaps there isn’t, but how do we know unless we have the courage to ask? How do we know how prevalent issues like gender equity and work/life balance are in our profession if those who are suffering from inequity or imbalance are too afraid to say anything and we are too afraid to ask them? I deeply admire the members of the SE3 Committee for having not only the courage to ask these questions, but also for having the courage to address the answers to those questions. Their courage has opened the doors to a long overdue discussion in our profession. I am proud to be the president of an association that has such motivated, dedicated, and courageous members.