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News & Press: Committee News

Recap of SE3’s Fall Panel on Work Life Balance

Monday, November 19, 2018  
Posted by: SE3 Chairs
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The SEAONC Structural Engineering Engagement and Equity (SE3) Committee held its fall panel discussion, entitled “Work-Life Balance: Perspectives and Real Life Solutions,” on October 11, 2018, at Thornton Tomasetti in San Francisco.

SE3 2018-2019 co-chairs Hayley Dickson and Zahraa Saiyed began the night by introducing SE3’s mission and presenting very relevant results from SE3’s 2016 and 2018 surveys. Most notably, dissatisfaction with work life balance is one of the leading reasons that both men and women consider leaving the profession.

Moderator Ayse Hortacsu, Director of Projects at Applied Technology Council, kicked off the night by asking the five panelists - Abe Lynn, David Friedman, Gina Beretta, Ibrahim (Ibbi) Almufti, and Lizzie Blaisdell – to introduce themselves by sharing a graphical timeline of their work-life balance. Ibbi’s graphic earned a particularly positive reaction - both for its relatable take on the struggle to fit work, family, personal time, exercise, and sleep into 24 hours, and for its colorful appearance, courtesy of his 2 young children's’ Crayola crayons.


Left to right: Abe Lynn, David Friedman, Lizzie Blaisdell, Ibbi Almufti, Gina Beretta


Prompted by Ayse’s variety of thoughtful questions, the panelists shared a wide range of anecdotes and advice from their personal and professional experiences.

As an emeritus CEO, David Friedman spoke about his own experience asking for extended paternity leave - at a time when such benefits were not the norm - evolved into trusting his own employees with the flexibility they need to be successful. He emphasized that balanced people make better engineers, and that companies should be set up such that flexibility does not hurt the career path of valuable employees – particularly women, who still face a greater challenge.


Left to right: Ayse Hortacsu, Abe Lynn, David Friedman, Lizzie Blaisdell, Ibbi Almufti, Gina Beretta


Gina and Ibbi agreed that from their perspectives as managers, quality of work, not quantity of hours, should define the success of an employee. Ibbi stressed the need for less experienced engineers to gain the trust of their management prior to taking advantage of flexibility benefits. Gina discussed her efforts to build camaraderie amongst her project teams by communicating clearly about scheduling and negotiating reasonable expectations with clients on behalf of her staff.

Lizzie Blaisdell spoke from personal experience on a popular topic of the night – taking, and returning from, parental leave. Like many new mothers, Lizzie found it beneficial to return on a part time schedule to give her more time to be present at home with her family. She discussed the struggle to define what working part time would mean for her present and future role. 

Abe shared his unique career journey of bouncing back and forth between being a professor and a practicing engineer in a management position. Like several other panelists, he cited remote working as an important flexibility benefit offered by his company that both he and his staff have taken advantage of. In particular, one of the employees that he managed worked remotely for 1-½ years and it worked well for both the employee and the company.

Some of the most memorable moments of the evening were SEAONC president Tim Hart’s closing words. Tim presented a personal and moving recount of his own journey with work life balance, which early in his career was essentially non-existent as he consistently worked overtime for years. Tim’s story was an important reminder of how remarkable it is that we are having this conversation as an industry, and how important it is that we continue to do so.


Tim Hart, President of SEAONC

The night ended with a networking happy hour. Attendees socialized, enjoyed refreshments, and reflected with their peers on the many important themes that had come up throughout the discussion.

The SE3 committee would like to thank our five amazing panelists for their time, insights, and willingness to share, our moderator Ayse for facilitating such a thought-provoking discussion, and all of the event’s attendees for helping to make the night such a success. We would also like to thank the NCSEA Co-chairs, Angie Sommer and Nick Sherrow-Groves, and survey analysis lead, Rose McClure, for providing the local SE3 committee with preliminary data on the work-life balance panel for our use and for contextualizing the event. If you are interested in further discussion about work life balance under different contexts, you can check out this article. For tips and techniques in negotiating flexibility in your own work environment, you can start by reading 6 Steps to Negotiating Flexible-Work Arrangements.

What’s upcoming for SE3 @ SEAONC & Call for Volunteers

With the preliminary results of the 2018 SE3 survey shared at the NCSEA Summit in October, SE3 is excited to revolve its 2018-2019 programming around the recent survey and continue its successful events from past years. We intend to host a second SE3 symposium in 2019 as well as launching a Diversity and Inclusion initiative, among other programs and projects. We need your help for these events and programs to be successful! Whether or not you have been a member of our committee in past years, we would be delighted to have your help on the following committees and programs:

2019 SE3 Symposium Subcommittee This group will develop content for the symposium, day-of logistics, sponsorship, marketing, etc., revolving around the 2018 survey results. We need all the help we can get!

Long-term Mentorship program Subcommittee: Creating a long-term network of mentorship in our profession (in addition to our Speed-Mentorship events we plan to hold twice a term). Knowing that SE's without mentors are 22% more likely to leave the profession, we know you want to help our industry with retention through development of a mentorship program!

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Initiative Launch Subcommittee: We received an NCSEA grant to develop and launch a new D&I initiative beginning with an event we hope to host in Fall 2019. We need help in defining content, logistics, marketing, etc. We are in the very initial stages at the moment and would like your thoughts and ideas!

Outreach Subcommittee: We need additional support in spreading the word on our committee’s great work, post-event data gathering for incremental improvement of events and discussions, increasing our membership, and much more!

Communications Subcommittee: Support in obtaining and organizing content for quarterly SE3 newsletters and reaching out to synergistic organizations (like AIA, EQxD and others) to help us market our events via a broader network. Help us ramp up the dissemination of all things SE3!

Please email Hayley Dickson ( or Zahraa Saiyed ( if you are interested in joining a committee or learning more! 

Words from the new SE3 Co-chair, Zahraa Saiyed:

In early 2016, I recall receiving a request from SEAONC to fill out the first nationally-distributed study measuring compensation, employee engagement and career satisfaction for structural engineers. It was on behalf of a new group, called the Structural Engineering Engagement and Equity Committee. With each question answered, I felt elated knowing that SE3 was willing to ask the hard questions for the overall improvement of our industry. And I just had to be involved. Since then, we have collectively (and gladly) invested hours into the committee to empower and retain members of our industry, and continue to do so.

I feel incredibly fortunate to be SE3’s Co-chair along with Hayley Dickson for the 2018-2019 term. In past, I have had the opportunity to work on the exposure and equity pipeline - allowing traditionally underrepresented groups to learn and participate in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) fields. I’ve developed art-based math curriculum for grade school students, led M.I.T’s Women’s Initiative which reaches 6,000 high-school and middle-school age girls to inspire and encourage matriculation into STEAM disciplines, and founded a professional development forum,, for minority undergraduate women to learn from individuals in various industries on navigating their careers. Bolstering the pipeline is one aspect of our industry. The SE3 committee, with the help of NCSEA, affords us a critical look at the national state of our professional and strives to improve it for the benefit of all SE practitioners.

It is a privilege to be a part of the needed discussion that both the Structural Engineering and Architecture professions are undertaking here in the Bay Area. I look forward to continue the promotion of equity, engagement, retention, satisfaction, diversity and inclusion through SE3, and encourage all SEAONC members to get involved! Email us at to join our committee and listserve.

[Data/Food] for Thought:

The AIA’s Equity by Design held its fifth symposium on November 3rd at the SF Arts Institute. One of the panelists this year was our very own Natalie Tse, co-founder of SE3, speaking on building an equitable workplace from the bottom up. Read about the AIA’s findings for its 2018 Equity Survey on Architect magazine

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