Thursday, February 21 is Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (also known as Girl Day), which is part of
National Engineers Week.
We sat down with Sandy Martin, PE, CBSI, Vice President of Systems and Operations and Jeannette Quirus, PE, PTOE, Director of Traffic Engineering to learn how they achieved their positions as two of
McCormick Taylor’s leaders in an industry that is traditionally male-dominated.
What milestones have you reached that have helped you become a successful woman in leadership?
The milestones that have always helped me are the capstones of educational commitments—obtaining my engineering degree and bridge safety inspector certification in 1988, my first Professional Engineer license in 1993, and my MBA in 1996 are some good examples. The milestones of these accomplishments have consistently demonstrated my qualifications to others before they even know what I can do, and as a result, opened doors for opportunity. Whether formal or informal, continuing education and life learning have always been so important to my success. We are never too old to learn.
Do you have any advice for young girls trying to break into the industry?
Be open to try anything, be willing to learn, and be all in. Some of my best growth and developmental moments have occurred when I least expected it. You can learn so much from other people and everyday life experiences. And never forget that it is okay to fail because often it is our mistakes that we learn from the most.
To young engineers and designers: seek out opportunities to visit construction sites and attend public meetings to understand and appreciate the significance and impact of our work on people and their communities.
Who is a mentor that you have looked up to, or been inspired by?
As I look back, I now realize that I can’t really identify any strong women mentors in my work life, but I did have a strong-willed and hard-working mom and a loving and supportive dad—both who were always honest, ethical, and strong believers in self accountability. They have very much shaped who I have become and I am forever grateful to them.
I also had several bosses over the years, including Jim Wiggans and [McCormick Taylor President] Tom Caramanico here at McCormick Taylor, as well as Rick Craig from my Chester County days, who always afforded me the freedom and opportunity to grow and lead.
I am always interested in meeting and speaking with young engineers to share experiences or help them find opportunities.
What milestones have you reached that have helped you become a successful woman of leadership?
Obtaining my Professional Engineer license was the first big milestone in my career. The next was managing the traffic staff in my office (10+ people), which then expanded to managing the traffic staff across the company (30+ people). I learned that I enjoy managing people a bit more than managing projects! Developing relationships, teaching and mentoring others, and seeing them grow in their own careers is inspiring to me. Finally, I am one of seven directors in the firm (and the only woman) in the Transportation Group. That is a huge milestone.
Do you have any advice for young girls trying to break into the industry? I find myself still calling out people for using outdated terms when addressing letters or emails to “Gentlemen” or talking about “Man Hours” projected to work on a job. Sometimes you need to help teach people that those terms are not okay anymore. Being a woman in engineering is still unique, and I would say that you should embrace that and do things your own way. You don’t have to mimic what others are doing. Having women and their different perspectives at every table—any table where discussions are held and decisions are made—is so important. The work environment is changing to appeal to women’s strengths: listening, empathy, a focus not just on the work, but on developing relationships. It's no longer the patriarchy from 40 or so years ago.
Are there any challenges you’ve had to overcome as a woman in the industry? I have been, and still am, in rooms with all men or mostly men. I’ve learned to speak up with confidence instead of sitting back and listening. I think women tend to listen more before speaking up. If you are invited to a meeting or sent an email, people want to know what you are thinking.
Who is a mentor that you have looked up to, or been inspired by? Seeing a woman astronaut (Sally Ride) in the 1980s really inspired me while I was in elementary school. My parents also taught me that I could do anything I wanted to, and I believed them. There have also been many women over the years that have helped me or given me advice. I will say that I just read Michelle Obama’s book, “Becoming,” and wow, she is inspiring!
I am a mom to three teenage daughters, and on most days, they think what I do is pretty cool. They know I am in a male-dominated field. Now when I go home I can share my little victories when I step out of my comfort zone (oftentimes in a room full of men). It’s always on my mind that I am setting an example to them and showing them that they can achieve anything they want to.