Canadian Consulting Engineer

TWICE

Kristen Poff, EIT, is a project engineer with WSP in Winnipeg, a company that she has been with since 2006. She works mostly in municipal civil works and is currently pursuing a M.Sc. in civil engineering at the University of Manitoba.

August 1, 2014   Canadian Consulting Engineer

Kristen Poff, EIT, is a project engineer with WSP in Winnipeg, a company that she has been with since 2006. She works mostly in municipal civil works and is currently pursuing a M.Sc. in civil engineering at the University of Manitoba.

Among her numerous volunteer activities, Poff is involved with ACEC-Manitoba and won its 2014 Rising Star award. Most recently she was the brains behind a new committee known as “Technical Women in Consulting Engineering,” or TWICE.

CCE spoke to Poff in July.

Q. How did TWICE come about?

It came about last summer. I had been thinking about it for a while. Our provincial licensing organization has a committee that studies the enrolment and retention of women in engineering and geoscience that I also sit on. But that committee is more focused on statistics and research, as opposed to networking and professional development opportunities. So there was a void and it needed to be filled.

TWICE’s original vision was to increase diversity in the consulting engineering sector, and to foster the increased retention of women — in consulting, but also in the broader engineering and construction industry.

We held our first event in December 2013. It was a great success and attracted both males and females, from various ACEC member firms.

Our second event, in March, was an industry reception. We sent invitations out to anyone involved in the engineering sector, whether they work for a consultant, a construction firm, the provincial or federal governments, or the City of Winnipeg. We feel that there is value added, especially on the networking side of things, if we branch out to the other organizations that we work closely with, as the majority of these sectors are male-dominated professions. If you look at the statistics, whether it is engineering or construction, the percentage of women is never over 20 per cent.

Right now we’re hoping to promote awareness. Lots of people believe that there are no issues — that the stereotypes, the biases and the lack of advancement do not exist, regardless of what the statistics say.

Q. Are some of the sceptics women who have achieved successful careers in engineering so they don’t have a lot of sympathy for those who complain?

Yes, especially if you start to talk about work-life balance. Which is a really hot topic.

Q. Is it larger companies that tend to have good work-life balance policies?

I don’t think it depends if it’s a larger or smaller company. I think it depends what the culture of the company is and whether they have aligned themselves more with Generation X and Y viewpoints. I think you’re seeing a lot more Generation X and Y, whether male or female, looking for flexible work policies and a collaborative work environment. To them work isn’t the only thing in their life.

Q. There are lots of women who are part of the Young Professional Groups in the consulting engineering associations. Why

did you need to go one step further with TWICE?

Because statistically women leave their careers after seven to 10 years, and at ACEC-Manitoba most of our young professionals tend to be in the first four to six years of their careers. Another primary difference is that the sessions TWICE plans are geared towards women. We’re hosting a seminar in September, for example, which is geared towards helping women select a leadership style that works for them without taking on a male style.

And our networking social events are activities that women are more attracted to. They’re just an opportunity to mix and mingle and develop a network and a sense of community. cce

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