Being a Female Engineer in a Male Dominated Industry
“You’re smarter than you look.” This was actually said to me at a work function once…
According to PESA (Petroleum Equipment and Services Association), men make up 85% of employees in the oil and gas industry.1 Men also make up the majority of positions ranging from entry level, mid-term, senior/executive, and CEO. Entering this industry as a mechanical engineer, fresh out of college, is no different than being thrown into a new world where survival skills need to be activated and developed. Knowledge and patience are constantly challenged, especially when the sharks can smell fresh, young meat. In this scenario I think to myself: “I cannot show fear.”
I noticed the diversity imbalance first, during college in my mechanical engineering program, and then even more during each of my internships. Fortunately there is a place that is different. Brindley Engineering (BE). BE makes diversity a priority in every sense – it’s part of the company culture and it’s what makes this place special.
I have worked hard at BE. I’ve worked long hours. I have started from the ground up and have made plenty of mistakes. I’ve been called out for being wrong. “I have to prove myself.” It’s a feeling I am familiar with and it drives me to do good work. In the beginning I knew I was not the smartest one in the room. In the beginning, my tasks were given by more senior engineers or client managers. It was beneficial for me to collaborate with other contractors, such as pipe fitters, since constructability is important for execution. At that point in time, it was usually me and a room made up of 99% men.
I was sent to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska on a plane full of large, grizzly men who always left the middle seat empty, praying for a small engineer to sit there. I was going into the field with a team, discussing and designing ways to succeed. I was doing well, and my colleagues seemed to trust me. Trust turned to confidence, allowing me to contribute more in meetings involving clients. Then, our senior engineer, also my mentor, left the company and I had to step up. I lead my first multi-discipline project. Speaking in front of a room full of seasoned, industry veterans and telling them their existing system is over-designed. I thought: “Why would they believe me, an inexperienced, young, engineer? But I have our data, I need to present it confidently.” That project succeeded with the help of our entire talented BE team and our data helped show ways for the client to further improve their permanent design. That project was impactful. “We are recognized,” I felt it. Over the years I have continued to lead projects and present in rooms where I was the minority.
Today, I am closing in on 5 years in the industry – replacing and analyzing equipment and thousands of feet of piping. Walking all mechanical scope down with Constructability, Inspection, Engineers, Operators, Supervisors, and Superintendents. Settling in on-site over the last 3 years continuing to grow the Brindley Engineering Mechanical Team has been very satisfying. We are being noticed for our accuracy and dedication. We are getting called for work we couldn’t get 3 years ago. We continue to be one of the only multicultural group in meetings. I can’t help but feel: “I must be doing something right. We must be doing something right.”
When I walk into a room that is 99% men and 1% me, I know being an engineer doesn’t mean uniformity. As long as you find a place that celebrates diversity, where you can grow your skills and be a role model for others, your success is unlimited.
BE has a rich cultural makeup – with employees from (15) different countries, 12 different languages are spoken at the office, professionally BE covers all 6 major engineering disciplines and has almost a 20% female work force.
– Alesia T., Mechanical Engineer , Brindley Engineering
“A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.” — Sundar Pichai
- PESA, PESA Diversity Study Identifies Opportunities to Advance Women in the Workplace (April 26, 2018)
- Data USA, Data USA: Mechanical Engineers, Retrieved from [https://datausa.io/profile/soc/mechanical-engineers#about]
- Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in Energy – Gas, Mining, and Oil(March 29, 2019).