Women in Tunneling

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Theresa Engler, Executive Director, Deep Foundations Institute #WomenWhoTunnel

By Gregg Tiedeman posted 05-24-2021 10:04 AM


Women In Tunneling features an exemplary female representative of the tunneling industry each month in order to amplify their experiences in the underground field. This month we introduce you to Theresa Engler, Executive Director at the Deep Foundations Institute.


What is your actual involvement in the tunneling business?

As director of a related industry association that has a tunneling and underground committee which was established in 2018, we hold a shotcrete short course bi-annually and collaborate with UCA as appropriate.



How were you introduced to the tunnel industry, and why did you decide to pursue it as a career?

As noted above, I’m not an engineer, nor is my career in tunneling but rather in support of engineers, contractors, equip/material manufacturers/suppliers, academia and owners involved in underground construction and deep foundations.  I guess you could say I “fell into it”.


What professional achievement are you most proud of?

Longevity of working in this industry for nearly 25 years, being inducted into the Moles and winning the NYSAE Executive Director of the Year Award.


Even though the number of women has been increasing over the years, the tunneling industry is still considered a male oriented environment. What do you think are some of the factors or obstacles—either societal or sometimes even self-imposed— that deter women from entering the underground career force? And what can we do as an industry or as a society to encourage more women to join?

Many women are likely not aware of or introduced to the varied roles they can play in the industry and since it is quite specialized it doesn’t come up as a career choice in high school other than “engineering” in general.  Additionally once in the industry sometimes the expectation from corporations is that a woman won’t stay because of family/personal obligations so they don’t get promoted as quickly.  Luckily, I’ve seen that changing a lot in recent years.  To encourage more women, we should all promote ourselves and the opportunities through all means available, social media, school career days, etc.



How do you tap into your inner leader? What advice would you give on having the courage to honor your voice and to speak out and contribute your influence?


I recall on a daily basis the hurdles I’ve overcome in my career to remind myself when self-doubt comes in that I can do anything I put my mind to with the right tools and research and that it’s ok to ask for help when needed. I also look to exhibit confidence in myself by encouraging others to do the same and mentoring those I come in contact with through the Institute.



Looking back, what two pieces of advice do you have for your younger self?


Don’t be so hard on myself or think that I have to prove myself at every turn.  Defensiveness usually led to less opportunity rather than more.  Take responsibility for errors, learning from them and don’t make the same mistake twice.



What do you hope the future holds for yourself, for the industry, and/or for other women who will be a part of tunneling & underground construction?

I’d like to see women in the industry, just be people in the industry, without the need for advocacy – just be a natural part of the workforce and I believe the work we do now can make that happen for those that come after us.