To honor International Women in Engineering Day on June 23rd, we reached out to some of Clark Dietz's engineers to hear about their most impactful memories and support in the field, their advice to aspiring women engineers, and what they wish people knew about being a woman in engineering.
The number of women in engineering careers is steadily growing every year, and Clark Dietz is no exception to this growth. We are proud to represent the women at Clark Dietz, their accomplishments, and experiences.
Meet our featured engineers: Emily Basalla, Christina Hiotaky, and Keary Roberts.
Environmental, Northern IL/WI
Emily shares her perspective and experience of being a woman in engineering as the Vice President of the Environmental Engineering department at Clark Dietz.
Mechanical, Chicago IL
As a recent graduate from Illinois Tech University, Christina shares her experience as a part of the newest generation of women engineers.
Transportation, Champaign, IL
Keary shares her experience as a woman in Transportation Engineering, who frequently works in construction for Clark Dietz.
Q: Do you have a favorite memory as a woman in engineering?
Christina: My favorite memory as a woman in engineering isn’t necessarily a specific moment, as I would say that watching and actively participating in acts that are transforming the world to become more accepting and inviting of women in the field has been truly inspiring. With that, I’m also excited to see what happens as Generation Z slowly joins the professional world and how many more changes can be made that will enhance our profession and strengthen our society.
Emily: I’m not sure there is one memory that stands out for me, but rather several. They all surround making positive change. I am motivated to help others succeed around me, to help them see in themselves what they are capable of achieving. So my favorite memories are when I see that materialize – the confidence that grows from feeling included and supported.
Keary: I don’t know that I have a specific “woman in engineering” memory, but I will say that I feel that I’ve built good working relationships and a general level of respect with my colleagues and contractors in the area. Something that’s been very important to me as a woman in engineering is to have my work speak for itself.
Q: Do you have any inspiring figures as an engineer, including or not limited to someone who has acted as a mentor to you at Clark Dietz? If so, who is it, and how have they inspired you/helped you?
Christina: I have a couple inspiring figures that drive me to become the best version of myself. My first inspiring figure was one of my college professors, Professor Corradi. Within my entire academic department, the Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering Department, she is currently the only female professor. I had the opportunity to learn from her a few years ago and she continues to lead the Net Zero Home Energy design class to national wins, as well as taking on personal research through the university. She has taught me that boundaries and barriers exist to be broken and that every engineer, women included, can make a lasting and impactful change on the world through design. Another inspiring figure for me is a TikTok creator called “engineerleen”, her platform is dedicated to normalizing women in engineering who embrace their femininity in the professional engineering world. In the last 20 years, people have created a stereotype or expectation that women in engineering should look and act more masculine than other professionals. She has taught me that there is no such thing as a “right” way to act or look to be considered a qualified female engineer, all you need is confidence in your knowledge and expertise.
Emily: The most influential female mentor was my college hydraulics professor at the University of Missouri. She was my first encounter with a successful professional female Engineer. More than just being a competent professor, she balanced work, family, and her own interests seemingly flawlessly and invoked a passion in me for making a difference. She always took time to inspire us to follow our hearts and dreams and never give up. I am also extremely lucky to have several strong women engineers in my family, friends, and colleagues with which I surround myself. In their own individual ways, they all help me gain strength in difficult times but more importantly, remind me to stay true to my fundamental ideals, outlook, and to define my unique contribution to this field.
Keary: I honestly haven’t worked very closely with most of the female engineers at Clark Dietz, just due to the nature of my job; but I have a lot of respect for the women within this company and I think we have wonderful examples of competent women both within their fields and in their roles within the company.
Christina alongside a fellow intern on a site visit to a favorite project from a past internship.
Q: What is one thing you wish everyone knew about being a woman in engineering?
Christina: One thing that everyone should know is that there are still a lot of stigmas, stereotypes, and biases that exist within the higher education system, and even at the professional level. I have heard from numerous professionals that there aren’t any differences in treatment in higher education anymore. Having just recently graduated, I can tell you from firsthand experience that it is still alive and well in the classroom. Although it’s now extremely subtle, some people don’t notice it while others acknowledge it and dismiss it for other reasons. This is especially difficult for engineering students because of the inherently vulnerable position that students are in, combined with the competitiveness of grad schools, internships, etc. Women in higher education are still being discouraged to stay in the field, but Gen Z has been doing a great job at directly challenging these issues and are creating inspiring change that will ultimately encourage more women to stay in the field.
Emily: It takes hard work. Not just the expected hard work to grow technically, but to achieve the equal respect necessary to thrive and make a difference. To believe in yourself when others may not, to see beyond the traditional roles in the industry, and to surround yourself with people who aren’t limited by who you are today, but rather help you strive to be the person you are capable of being tomorrow.
Keary: Honestly, that I generally don’t think about being a woman in engineering, so much as just an engineer. I’m here to do the same job as all of my peers, regardless of gender, and more often than not that’s how the people in my work environment treat me. I work in construction and can honestly say that I have always felt very respected by both engineers and contractors for my ability to do my job. I know that is not everyone’s experience, and I am grateful that it’s been mine, but I do think that the industry is growing in that direction.
Keary catching up on some material paperwork outside of a Clark Dietz field office.
Q: What would you tell young women who are aspiring engineers?
Christina: Any young woman or girl who aspires to become an engineer needs to know that they are more than capable of becoming one if they are willing to put in the hours studying, working on projects, and most importantly, collaborating with other engineers. One of the most common stigmas about engineers is that they aren’t very social people, but one of the most important things to understand about engineering is that we can learn so much more from each other than we can from just our advisers. Creating mutually beneficial relationships with your peers and colleagues is such an asset in both an academic and a professional setting. There are already enough barriers in place for women in stem to be able to reach our highest potential and the last thing that anyone need is to be discouraged entirely by them; all women in engineering need to rally together to help each other rise and get rid of the existing stigmas within the profession.
Emily: To the young women and girls - it may seem intimidating to enter a field dominated by men; however, each and every one of us has a valuable perspective and approach that is necessary to shape the engineering field for the future. Being a working mother, balancing both aspects of life can be tedious. It is crucial to allow yourself the time to define your individual balance which works for you. It is up to us to break the mold and breathe new life into engineering – as it relates to technical, but also culture, family and management styles. It is important not to conform to the “way it’s always been” and instead to acknowledge that what makes us different as women is also what can elevate our industry and help everyone to succeed.
Keary: I would encourage any of them to follow what they want to do, regardless of what they feel people will think or how they will act. I have honestly had more positive experiences than negative, and I think that is only growing in the industry. If you have a passion, or even just an interest, follow it and see it through because you have all of the capabilities to learn and do anything within engineering.