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Civil Engineer Encounters Workplace Exclusion

In this career interview, a civil engineering regional manager shares his experiences working for a local firm. He finds the work rewarding and meaningful but struggles with being excluded from workplace decisions and social activities.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

My name is Jim, and I am a civil engineer working for a local company. The industry that I work in is civil engineering. My official job title is Regional Manager of Southeastern Civil Engineering, and I have a grand total of eleven years in this field.

What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

I am a Mexican male. I am sure that this ethnic designation does not help me in my field. It definitely does not help that I am the only person of my ethnicity at my job and that there seems to be more than just a little segregation going on in the business. Mind you, this is nothing that is overt or overwhelming; I am simply just left out of the social aspects of the business. Even though I am officially a manager who oversees fifteen employees and has the final decision on many things, I am often left out of decisions and my higher ups do not do much to counter this behavior. I have spoken out about it before but for the sake of my family and their security, I do not do that very often. When I spoke out, it was made very clear to me that doing this would be detrimental to my career. Even though I was the most talented engineer on their staff, they simply did not want to hear this type of disturbance from me. So I have found the best way to counteract the discrimination that I face is simply to keep quiet and look for other jobs while I work this one to the best of my ability.

How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

What I do as a civil engineer is to find weaknesses in buildings and infrastructure and rebuild them back in a stronger fashion than they were before. I basically work on the contracts that I receive from upper management. As a manager, I am responsible for delegating responsibilities of construction and analysis to my team and overseeing the synthesis of all of their analyses. One misunderstanding about what I do is that it is boring and only entails mathematics. There is a certain art to engineering, especially when you’re dealing with large structures, and there is a certain aspect that you have to have when dealing with buildings. People like the wear and tear of certain buildings because it brings out a certain personality or quality in them and speaks to the history of the locale. I have to find a way to preserve this while also preserving the building itself for future generations. This is a great challenge when dealing with government buildings.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

My job satisfaction is at a ten. My satisfaction with the company is a little lower than that because I have not been included socially, and I am not given the respect that my position entails. However, I have no qualms about my career choice. I was born to be an engineer, and I am challenged daily in my work. There is really nothing that I need to unleash my full enthusiasm, but maybe I would be even more excited to go to work if I had people that I felt actually wanted to work with me.

If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

This job does move my heart because I can see that I am making an impact. I feel like I have validated the efforts of my previous generations by doing something that will stand for generations to come. I have definitely found my sweet spot in life because I am able to combine my love of buildings and aesthetics with the mathematics that turn dreams into realities. I was the first person in my family to go to college, and I am definitely doing something with that opportunity. I am also providing greater opportunities, and I feel like I am a role model for my son because I can take him inside the work that his father has done. He can see the value of hard work and building.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

I feel that being the first person to go to college in my family is special and unique. I did not have anyone to tell me exactly what to do or what field to go into. I had to determine that for myself.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

I got started in this line of work in a study abroad program I took in London. I was absolutely amazed by the architecture over there and I wanted to be able to build things like this. There is really nothing that I would do differently about the way that I got into engineering. I am happy to be able to work with architects and give a little bit of style to the buildings in my area.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

I had to learn the hard way that no matter how skillful you are, sometimes people simply do not like you. I learn this every day, and the most difficult part is that there is not one instance that I can put my finger on and say “this is racism,” or “this is discrimination.” However, you just do the best you can with what you have. I cannot worry about the feelings of others.

What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

Stay focused on your job and everything else will fall into place.

Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

I get up and go to work every day to make a difference in the city. I was especially proud when one of the appellate court judges commented to me on my work in the local courthouse. She said that it was the most beautiful engineering that she had ever seen.

What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

The challenges that I face are mostly personal, not professional. There is a daily challenge to simply do my job and hand down instructions knowing full well that I might be overruled at a lower level just to spite me.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

I keep myself from reacting to stress by keeping my family first.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

I am definitely living within my means because I have a family to raise. A rough salary range for people in my position is anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000 a year.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

I have four weeks paid vacation every year. No, it is not enough, but I’ll take what I can get.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

You definitely would do well to have a degree from a four-year institution, and your portfolio should be immaculate. These days, you can show your skills in multimedia presentations. I would definitely do that if I were looking for a job today.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

I would tell a friend considering my line of work to be ready to use both sides of the brain.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

If I could write my own ticket, I would definitely have my own engineering firm in five years.

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