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SE3: Structural Engineering Engagement and Equity

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

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One of the things I love hearing about are structural engineers' interests outside of work. Whether it's volunteer committee work or other hobbies such as running, hiking, fishing or even race car driving, structural engineers seem to have a knack for bringing enthusiasm and joy to everything we do, both in our jobs and in our free time.
For me personally, I've always been interested in people and society, the way we grow and learn to interact with each other, and the way we use our experiences in life to develop an understanding of the environments around us. When I applied to college, half of my applications went to engineering schools and half to sociology programs. And though I chose the best educational path and profession for me, I have always maintained this secondary interest. In 2015, when I stumbled upon an opportunity to combine the two, a chance to study structural engineers in their "natural habitat", I took it and started something called SE3.
SE3 stands for structural engineering engagement and equity, and it is a group of people who study structural engineers. Through a national survey, first implemented by a committee of the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California (SEAONC) in 2016 and more recently by a committee of the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations (NCSEA), SE3 works to improve our profession by shedding light on business practices which influence career satisfaction and retention. Through this work, we aim to understand the non-technical barriers that can prevent structural engineers from succeeding in their careers, and we work to address those barriers through continuous dialogue and discussion.
Since its earliest beginnings, SE3 has collaborated with and benefited from the work of other organizations. In preparing for the initial survey, we consulted with the SEI Young Professionals Committee who conducted a similar study in 2013 focused entirely on diversity in the field. We also drew inspiration from the 2014 Equity in Architecture survey conducted by the AIA in San Francisco. Though both of these studies focused on diversity and did not explicitly address engagement, all three projects applied a data-driven approach to assess issues people would otherwise feel uncomfortable discussing - issues which impact everyone.

Some of the most interesting findings from the 2016 study focus on career development, pay, and work-life balance. We found that structural engineers are generally satisfied, but over half have considered leaving the profession at some point in their careers. People who left cited poor management as one of their top reasons for leaving, as well as high stress and low pay. Over half of the respondents receive compensation for overtime work, and those who do are more satisfied with pay and less likely to experience burnout. We found that principals and young engineers are more satisfied with work-life balance than senior engineers and associates, despite the fact that principals work more hours on average than any other position level. 
Since 2016, we have shared these and other findings with structural engineers across the country, and the results have been very promising. Across the memberships of SEA, SEI, and other organizations, we have encountered tremendous enthusiasm and support for our study. We have spoken with structural engineering business leaders and owners and with young engineers just out of school. We have discussed with engineers at small firms and at large firms, in academia and in professional practice. People everywhere are often surprised by how well they can relate to our findings, given our focus on diversity and inclusion. There is, perhaps, a widespread perception that diversity initiatives work to improve things for only a select few. SE3 works hard to dispel this notion, and to emphasize both aspects of our work: engagement and equity. Through our mission statement: to attract and retain the best talent into our profession, and to ensure that all structural engineers have a clear pathway to success in their careers, we firmly believe that all engineers stand to benefit from these conversations.

Through this experience, I have seen firsthand the importance of collaborating across organizations and the ability of professional organizations to connect individuals of varied interests and passions. The people I have worked with on this committee are among the most engaged structural engineers I know, and they are all devoted to securing the future of our profession. As we continue to work through the results of our most recent study, which we expect to share with the SE community-at-large soon, we look forward to continuing the conversation with as many structural engineers as possible.

By Rose McClure, P.E., M.ASCE

Learn more about the SE3 Committee

Learn more about the SE3 Project