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Peer Groups Help Engineering Moms Balance Motherhood and Career

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Ariel Christenson has several friends also nursing newborns and has met many more through an engineering working moms Facebook group. Her phone is filled with people who know all about the balancing act – motherhood and engineering.

It’s a tight-knit group, this 3 a.m. texting club of engineering working moms. And Ariel is a proud member.
These days – or more accurately, these nights – she finds herself awake in the hazy daze between midnight and dawn, feeding her infant son, J.J.

It’s peaceful; it’s wonderful. It can also be daunting when you do the math and realize your work day starts in just a few short hours.

That’s when the texting comes in. Ariel has several friends also nursing newborns and has met many more through an engineering working moms Facebook group. Her phone is filled with people who know all about the balancing act – motherhood and engineering. “It’s been nice having other moms going back to work and talking to them, knowing there are other people out there going through what you’re going through,” says Christenson, structural engineer for Short Elliott Hendrickson in St. Paul, MN, past-president of the ASCE Minnesota Younger Member Group, and new mom. “I’m not the only one up at 3 a.m. There are other moms out there responding to my texts at 3 a.m.”

That Christenson has found a community of like-minded engineers each passing through similar moments on their life timelines should not be surprising. It’s not as if the woman who balances a civil engineering career with motherhood is some rare find. Department of Labor statistics show that 70 percent of U.S. women with children under the age of 18 are participating in the labor force.

However, when ASCE News explored the ASCE Salary Survey data earlier this year, several women suggested motherhood as a potential reason women civil engineers start making less than their male counterparts, on average, about 10 years into their careers.

“I don’t think there is a woman who hasn’t considered it as a potential tradeoff,” said Rose McClure, P.E., S.E., M.ASCE, a structural engineer for Simpson Gumpertz & Heger in San Francisco. “So many women working as civil engineers are now in their 20s and 30s and struggling with that question: can I have this career that I’ve worked my whole life for and also have a family?”

Christenson and so many other women in ASCE have answered that question affirmatively. And by finding so many who can relate to the unique balancing act that they face each day, they provide each other with kind of peer network needed to persevere through the times where the responsibilities might, otherwise, feel too overwhelming.

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