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Women in tunneling meet and organize 09 Aug 2018

TunnelTalk reporting

As the number of women professionals establishing careers in the underground design and construction industry increases, there is a growing impetus to join and to strengthen the Women in Tunneling group that was founded in 2012 within the tunneling industry of the USA to focus on networking with like minded professionals and discuss and share experiences and career concerns.

WIT lunch in June to chart the way forward
WIT lunch in June to chart the way forward

“A process that started in 2012 as an idea to bring women in the industry together and create a strong support association, has continued shaping into its real purpose,” said Zuzana Skovajsova, Chief Tunnel Specialist with COWI in North America and Chair of Women in Tunneling (WIT) when addressing the group’s lunch meeting during the NAT (North American Tunneling) conference held in Washington D.C. in June this year (2018). The annual luncheon has became a tradition and the event this year exceeded expectations. “The attendance was the biggest gathering of women in the tunneling industry yet,” said Skovajsova, “and the growing interest of the women is very noticeable and encouraging. Nearly 50 ladies - which represents a 20% increase compared to last year – represented professionals from different sectors of the industry with different levels of expertise and experience, came together to share their vision and support for the group. Attendees included not only those working for consultants, contractors, owners, and academia, but also journalists and marketing professionals.”

Plans for WIT and women speak of their role in the industry

At the lunch gathering, the group discussed the WIT plan to affiliate with the UCA (Underground Construction Association) of SME industry association, which received positive endorsement. “The support of a larger organization will allow us to focus on what is essential to grow the WIT group, improve its visibility and provide support to its followers,” said Skovajsova.

The primary platform for exchanging views and attracting new members is the Women in Tunneling LinkedIn group, which has 312 members from all around the world.

This summer the WIT group launched a survey to understand the group demography and the expectation of members. “It was not surprising that 22% of the ladies taking the survey are from outside the US,” explained Elisa Comis, Senior Project Consultant with McMillen Jacobs in the USA and Co-Chair of WIT. “The group was founded as a gathering during the North America tunneling community conferences, but thanks to the LinkedIn group it has reached out to the rest of the world as well. The majority of the survey participants have described themselves as consultant (28.6%), followed by contractor (17.9)%, designer (14.3%), engineer (10.7%) and other professionals from fields such journalism and marketing, demonstrating the wide range of opportunities for women through the tunneling business (Fig 1). In the survey, women indicated communication skills as their greatest strength, followed by project management and creative thinking.”

WIT survey drew responses from all sectors of the industry
WIT survey drew responses from all sectors of the industry

Members see the main benefit of the WIT group as the opportunity for networking and for supporting women in a tunneling industry, and for this reason, 85.7% of those surveyed have an interest in developing a mentorship program as a mentor or mentee. “Even if each of us can become a strong advocate for women in tunneling through presence, action and quality work, the need to make it public has increased the demand for a stronger activity on social media, newsletter distribution, and technical sessions or discussion panels during conference events,” said Comis. “There was a general consensus that joining forces with the UCA of SME would be the best fit for this purpose. The SME and UCA organizations represent the wider industry in the USA and provide technical knowledge as well as premier educational and professional development opportunities for industry practitioners across the globe, which nowadays includes a growing number of women.”

“UCA of SME looks forward to partnering with WIT for the benefit of the tunneling community,” said Melanie Penoyar-Pereznie, Director of Operations, SME. “More and more women are being drawn to tunneling and this diversity of thought and talent is needed to drive innovation in the industry. In partnership with WIT, UCA of SME looks forward to providing networking and professional development opportunities for women at its future conferences and events.”

A significant acknowledgment has to be given to Nancy Yun, Marketing Manager; Desiree Willis, Public Relations Manager; and Sarah Crawford, Marketing Coordinator, with The Robbins Company, who worked hard on the design of the new WIT logo and oversaw management of the survey.

“Last but not least,” said Chair Skovajsova, in closing the 2018 luncheon, “we would like to acknowledge the generous support of the WIT sponsors who contributed to make the event possible. Their support of the individual women in the industry, as well as the group, reinforces the importance of the diversity in this traditionally male-dominated industry. Achievements of the WIT group to date are demonstration of the amazing things that teams of amazing women can do!”

The next annual meeting of the WIT is planned to coincide with the RETC conference in Chicago next year from 16-19 June 2019 and all women professionals interested in joining the group are invited to become members of the WIT LinkedIn group at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/4470112.

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