Women In Tunneling features an exemplary female member of the tunneling industry each month in order to highlight the significance of having diversity in the underground field. For April 2020, we are proud to introduce Shawna Von Stockhausen, Senior Project Engineer at Mott MacDonald! Read our interview with Von Stockhausen below where she discusses her involvement in the industry, how she got started, and what we can do to attract more women to pursue careers in the tunneling and underground construction industry.
- What is your actual involvement in the tunneling business?
I am a Civil Engineer working for Mott MacDonald and have worked on a variety of tunneling projects including inlet/outlet works at dams, water tunnels, transit tunnels, and CSO tunnels at planning, design, and construction management phases.
- How were you introduced to the tunnel industry?
I had an internship in college working for my current company. I met a lot of engineers who were still happily working on tunnel projects after multiple decades in the business which helped me decide that I wanted to pursue tunneling once I graduated.
- What do you believe women can bring to the tunneling business?
I personally believe that it’s less about what women can bring to the tunneling business and more about what having a diverse and welcoming group of people brings to the tunneling business. When we have offices and teams made up of a broad group of people, they are able to bring different perspectives and different approaches to problem solving, communication, and collaboration.
- Do you think the presence of women changes a tunneling work environment? Did you have different experiences in different countries?
When I am one of few women (or sometimes the only woman) on a construction site there has sometimes been a bit of a novelty to it with the crews in the beginning. Perhaps at first there is some uncertainty in how they will act around me and whether or not they will change their behavior significantly from if I wasn’t there. In my experience, I have noticed less conflict when I have worked with crews initially than with some of my male counterparts, and perhaps it is because of the novelty of the situation. In nearly all cases, I have had success with relatively open lines of communication without a large amount of ego-based conflicts on construction sites. Often times it is the individuals who I expected to have the most problems with (because of stereotypes and/or biases) in a construction environment who have been the most supportive and welcoming.
- Even though the number of women has been increasing over the years, the tunneling industry is still considered a male oriented environment. What can be done, in your opinion, to bring awareness of this business to a larger number of women?
I believe that outreach targeted at younger students and with a variety of people (different levels of experience, seniority, genders, and ethnicities) is crucial to presenting this industry as an option to everyone. In my experience, when students see that there are a variety of people at all levels who are in an industry, it makes it easier for them to see themselves as a part of it.
In addition to starting younger, there should be more attempts to have site visits for students already in engineering programs, internships for undergraduate students at all levels, and incorporation of the industry into existing undergraduate curriculums. My first experience in the industry was a byproduct of an internship and without that I likely would never have had any exposure as an undergraduate student and likely would not have pursued it after graduation. Consultants, Owners, and Contractors need to make an effort to speak at universities and conferences with a large student involvement to make sure that students know the industry exists and the different types of opportunities that exist.
Thank you, Shawna, for sharing your insightful thoughts with the UCA of SME Women In Tunneling community. We are grateful to have you as a member, and proud to have you representing Women In Tunneling.