Consulting: Equal
Opportunity Employment?


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Traditionally, consulting firms were a man's world for mechanical engineers. Is that changing in the 21st century?

"I think it's a trend that companies want to bring in more women," says Carrie Cremin, ME, a 2009 Cooper Union, New York City, graduate. During her job interviews she says, "If anything, being a woman was an advantage. Generally, people are happy to see a female [engineer]."

"Society and engineering are changing a little. It's getting better for younger women," observes Maureen Murray, senior director of engineering mechanics at Packer Engineering in Chicago. "I've worked in engineering since 1984 when I got my Master's. It was much harder 25 years ago!"

Murray's no longer Packer's only woman engineer, but the engineering staff remains over 90% male. "It's still hard. You have to be better than the men, and willing to go with the flow of the 'guy stuff.' Some women get offended too easily. I was raised with five brothers, so I was used to it. Just roll with the jokes, if you want to be part of the club," she recommends.

Starting Out

"I knew I wanted to do consulting, but I wasn't sure in what area," Cremin recalls. Despite the awful job market, through Cooper Union's

Career Connection website, she got two interviews. One firm, Lilker Associates, "had an opening in plumbing. I'm happy to be an engineer, whether I'm doing HVAC or plumbing!" Currently Lilker's only female engineer, she socializes easily with colleagues. "There's lots of sports talk. I don't know much about sports, but we all go out after work sometimes. I enjoyed the company's summer picnic, and am going on the firm's ski trip soon."

Cremin's flexibility and enthusiasm impressed her boss. "It's a rarity to see an engineer-let alone a woman engineer-with an interest in going into sanitary engineering, and especially from a high-quality institution like Cooper Union," says Bruce Lilker, PE, company founder and president.

As an engineer assisting a senior engineer, Cremin sometimes examines a space on-site, and may need to look at the ceiling. "When I ask the maintenance staff for a ladder, they say, "Are you filling in for the person who usually does this?' or 'Watch out, it's dusty up there,'" she recounts.

Murray earned Bachelor's degrees (mechanical engineering and biology) and a theoretical and applied mechanics graduate degree at University of Illinois. Those credentials and good grades brought five job offers. Eager to return to Chicago after three satisfying years at GM's Allison Gas Turbine division in Indianapolis, Murray's targeted letter-writing brought a Dynamic Chain Modeling position at Borg Warner Research Center. Contacts there eventually led to consulting at Packer.

When considering job candidates, Murray evaluates credentials plus work experience. The only young woman hired at Packer in 2010 "has a Master's of Science degree from an excellent school, and very strong credentials." Recent graduates, she believes, are, "better off getting experience at a large firm. As a consulting engineer, you're selling your expertise. New graduates really don't have the expertise yet, and need on-the-job training."

Networking

Both women are active in professional groups. Cremin joined the American Society of Sanitary Engineering (SAE), and was recently asked to join the New York chapter's board of directors. "It's a huge honor," says Cremin, the only female board member. Murray was a chairperson and program chair in Chicago's ASME chapter, until work demands interfered. "It gave me an opportunity to mentor younger engineers. As a consultant, it's good for my personal and professional development to keep up contacts. I encourage any woman engineer to be active in ASME and SAE." But skip the women-only societies. "I want to be treated as an engineer-not as a 'woman engineer'-and respected for my engineering abilities. I don't want to be favored, or held back, because I'm a woman."

"Most people are pleased to see more women in the field, and want to see them do well," Cremin feels. "I think a woman should look at all the possibilities. Educate yourself. Get as much information as you can about each field. Know your options."

Carol Milano is an independent writer.

Some women get offended too easily. I was raised with five brothers, so I was used to it. Just roll with the jokes, if you want to be part of the club.

Maureen Murray, Senior Director of Engineering Mechanics, Packer Engineering

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September 2011

by Carol Milano, ASME.org