Empowering Women in STEM with San Diego State University Students


In this episode of Extending the Ladder, Nancy sits down with three incredible STEM students from San Diego State University to talk about the challenges and pathways for empowering women in STEM.

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Lily Astete – Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering Joint Doctoral Program SDSU and UCSD, Dani Hunt – Master in Civil Engineering with a specialty in water resources SDSU, and Juliet Luevanos – Bachelor of Science in Construction Engineering SDSU, are all navigating the world of STEM and come together to discuss the barriers, challenges, and opportunities in their journey.

In a round table-type episode, Nancy has the opportunity to ask a new generation of women in STEM their thoughts on the industry, as well as opportunities they see for the industry to change to become more inclusive and accepting of all groups.

How to Empower Women in STEM

Empowering women in STEM isn’t just a matter of gender equality—it’s essential for driving innovation and progress, including:

Breaking Stereotypes: Encouraging Early Engagement

Empowerment begins with challenging stereotypes that discourage girls from pursuing STEM interests. Providing engaging educational opportunities, showcasing diverse role models, and organizing interactive workshops can foster an early love for STEM, setting the stage for lifelong exploration and achievement.

Mentorship and Networking: Building Supportive Communities

Effective mentorship and networking can significantly boost women’s confidence and career trajectories in STEM. Establishing mentorship programs that connect aspiring female scientists and engineers with accomplished professionals helps bridge knowledge gaps and provides guidance through challenges.

Inclusive Education: Creating Equitable Learning Spaces

Equitable access to quality education is paramount. Promoting gender-neutral learning environments, incorporating diverse perspectives in curricula, and implementing bias-free assessment methods can ensure that all students, regardless of gender, receive equal opportunities to excel in STEM fields.

Advocacy for Equal Opportunities: Championing Workplace Equity

Empowerment extends into the workplace. Advocating for transparent hiring practices, pay equity, and leadership roles for women in STEM careers is vital. Companies and institutions that prioritize gender diversity cultivate a more innovative and inclusive environment, driving organizational growth.

Promoting Work-Life Balance: Sustaining Long-Term Careers

Balancing demanding STEM careers with personal responsibilities remains a challenge. Encouraging flexible work arrangements, parental leave policies, and wellness programs acknowledges the diverse needs of women in STEM, enabling them to thrive both professionally and personally.

Visibility and Recognition: Celebrating Achievements

Celebrating the accomplishments of women in STEM reinforces their contributions and inspires others. Highlighting success stories through awards, conferences, and online platforms amplifies their impact, showcasing the tangible results of their dedication and hard work.

Empowering women in STEM is a collective responsibility that yields transformative results. By fostering supportive environments, advocating for equal opportunities, and celebrating achievements, we not only level the playing field but also cultivate a diverse pool of talent that drives innovation. As we continue to empower women in STEM, we usher in a future where their brilliance shapes the world’s technological and scientific landscapes.

Read the full episode transcript below:

Nancy Novak: Hi, everybody, this is Nancy Novak, Chief Innovation Officer at Compass Datacenters, and welcome to the next episode of Extending the Ladder. Today we have with us the wonderful San Diego State University, we have three amazing students. And I would love for them to be able to introduce themselves with a little bit of information about each one of them. So please give us your field of study, any experience you have in the field, how did you get interested in the STEM trades, and then what are your goals in this chosen field? Let’s start with you, Dani.

Dani Hunt: Thank you. My name is Dani. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree at SDSU and doing civil engineering with a specialty in water resources. My current research is on modelling post-fire vegetation management effects on urban stream systems, and I also did my undergrad at Colorado School of Mines in geotechnical engineering, entered the workforce in January, and I am working currently as a civil design engineer as well for a small engineering firm. So getting my hands in a lot of different things. I was first, I guess, drawn to STEM, I was really good at math and I am very competitive and honestly just wanted to do something impressive and I ended up really liking it. So I’m really enjoying where I’m at right now. And future goals, I actually would really like to learn more about the business side of engineering and moving forward after mastering the design and technical side, I’d really like to move into management and get to hopefully be a part of running a business someday.

Nancy Novak: That is fantastic. Thank you so much, Dani. How about you, Lily?

Lily Astete: Hi, my name is Lily Astete and I’m a fourth year PhD student at San Diego State. So I finished my bachelor’s degree at San Diego State in environmental engineering. And unlike Dani, I was not good at math, not that I know of anyway, so I actually was in the military years ago, and when I was getting out of the military, they gave me an aptitude test and told me I’d be a good engineer. I thought they were crazy. Turns out that I am a good engineer. So I’m in environmental engineering and I do research on sanitation systems. So these are different types of onsite sanitation systems that are used to provide access to sanitation or toilets for people that live all around the world without access to good barriers to prevent public health issues, and also to minimise the impact on the environment. So I work with a lot of different systems, I’ve worked on a waterless flushing toilet for mobile sanitation units to provide unhoused community members with access to a toilet, and I’m currently working on patenting a device for improving septic systems.

Nancy Novak: Wow. That’s fantastic. Thank you so much, Lily. And Juliet, how about you?

Juliet Luevanos Hi, yes, my name is Juliet Luevanos. I’m in my last year at San Diego State University. I’m studying construction engineering. I currently work at Balfour Beatty as a virtual design and construction intern, and then before that I was a project engineer intern at a construction site. I’m president of the AGCCMA Student Chapter, which stands for Associated General Contractors Construction Management Association of America. In regards to getting into STEM, I think it was just the fact that I did pretty well in math and science too, so I figured why not go into a field like that. Also, I feel like my parents encouraged me to pursue something like that. And then lastly for my goals, I think I just want to integrate technology in the construction industry and just find more efficient solutions to building, in addition to just staying involved with my alma mater, because I got a lot from my programme at San Diego State.

Nancy Novak: That’s fantastic. Yeah, it’s a great programme there, I can attest to that. The reason I wanted to go through these introductions is just to really frame the diversity we have on the call. Everybody is in similar fields, but different fields, and different stages throughout your academic and work careers. So I really feel like this is going to give us a great perspective when we ask certain questions, for our audience, about the industry that they might be interested in entering or are already in. So I would love to, what we’re going to do is a bit of a round-robin here, and I want to talk about, in the beginning, let’s hit it right off the bat, some of the challenges that you all have encountered in this male dominated field.

And I can give some examples of these challenges just off the bat, but you don’t have to… If any one of those resonates with you, I would love to hear from you, just which ones you would like to impart wisdom and experience and maybe some thoughts about for the audience. So challenges that are typical in this industry would be things like either sexual harassment or even sexual biases, imposter syndromes, implicit biases, and then possibly just behaviours within the industry when it comes to being able to hear your voice and have authority and those types of things. So if you guys wouldn’t mind giving me some feedback on one or the other, then maybe we can dig into one of the ones that would resonate really well with the audience, one or two of those. Dani, it would be wonderful if you could start us out.

Dani Hunt: I guess I would say I was lucky enough, I grew up with a lot of boys, and I was the only girl, so I’ve always been relatively comfortable with men and I had to learn very quickly how to defend myself. I found how to be competitive, be a competitor, and to stand up for myself around people who may look down on you or may not. I’ve been really lucky in that I’m surrounded with a lot of really good men in my workplace that I haven’t experienced a lot of, I don’t know if you want to call it coming against me, or someone looking down on me just because I’m a woman, I’ve actually been given a lot of things simply because I’m the only woman there or whatever.

My perspective, I think, is a little bit different on it, but I definitely would always want to say I have a lot of friends who have a lot of different stories, and I think it’s important not to walk into a room and assume that you’re going to be looked down on because you’re a woman. But also, I always had to come to an understanding if someone thought of me in the workplace as lesser because I’m a female, that’s their problem, that’s their thought. For me, I take it as a motivating factor. I like to encourage a lot of people too, a lot of women, don’t let it put you down. This is the way it is and if we’re going to start somewhere, we got to start by motivating ourselves to be like, “Hey, okay, you think I’m less because I’m a woman? Then I’m going to show you that I’m way better than any of these men in here.” So I have that kind of outlook on it so I’ve never had a situation that really put me down before, but I do like to encourage women.

Nancy Novak: You offer good advice. Honestly, it really is. Because statistically, we’re very underrepresented, and there’s reasons for that, and the reasons are all valid reasons, but I think that’s good advice as far as having that kind of mentality. I liked it because I’m a lot older than you all, and it was a little bit more explicit than the old things, and it was kind of a different world. 30 years ago was a long time ago in construction years. But I do have to say, I’m always fascinated because we’re trying to figure out how to advance and bring word of our gender into the industry, and there’s still statistically a big problem with that, so there’s reasons that we want to be able to overcome. And that’s why I like this type of feedback, this type of advice, and just still being plugged into what’s actually happening in the field.

And before I go on to Lily, I wanted to say, the biases that exist, especially the implicit biases, in most industries, especially in construction, definitely one of them, the implicit biases are usually dealt with good intentions. So it’s somebody who’s systemically brought up in a certain way who makes decisions on your behalf, sometimes without you even knowing it, and it’s not even something that they’re aware of. So we have to keep that in mind, that it doesn’t mean there’s no nefarious characters everywhere trying to cut you off, but it can happen because this is just human nature and, as humans, we all have biases. So I wanted to frame a little bit about that. It’s not about complaining, it’s more about just understanding and elevating the conversation. So Lily, let’s hear from you on this.

Lily Astete: Yeah, I actually resonated with what Dani was saying because I have noticed that women in STEM are there because they like a challenge. So if that challenge is math or science or technical issues or other people’s opinions of us, we’re going to overcome that. So I have noticed actually throughout my entire time in STEM, and I’ve looked this up several times, like psychology articles, like social science articles that actually cover that, women actually do perform better in STEM or they work harder in STEM. I’ve noticed it personally, had to look it up, and I think that is a conditioned response. But whether it is or it isn’t, it doesn’t matter, because we come in and we know it’s stacked against us, or maybe we assume what’s stacked against us and we’re going to overcome it. So we work really hard and we kick ass.

As far as imposter syndrome goes, I had it really bad. I have experienced it really bad over my time. But I have been in so many places, so many spaces that I never thought I would be, and I didn’t think were open for access to women or just any other demographic that I fit. I always felt like I didn’t belong there. They’re going to discover me. But I have found over the years that for as many people as I thought were smarter than me, better than me in their careers, or I could never be at their level, or I didn’t belong in the room with them, people also see me that way. So once you start to demonstrate your skills, your knowledge, your experience, you are the person that people feel like an imposter around. So that has suppressed this feeling for me, really, one, seeing that I’ve accomplished a lot because I work hard and I’ve overcome all of those challenges, and two, that sometimes I’m the expert.

Nancy Novak: That’s true. That was one of the things that we mentioned when we talked earlier, and that was if you look around at your peers, typically you can figure out that you know as much or more than they do once you get into a position, and really trying to, like you said, benchmark yourself against them is helpful because, again, there’ll be situations where the rules are reversed, and you know that you’re an expert on it. So that’s, again, very good and very confident and wonderful advice.

Lily Astete: We’re all imposters and we’re all faking it until we make it.

Nancy Novak: Love it. Before we move on to Julia, I wanted to ask a quick question about STEM. So I love the STEM fields and I’m interested in how we’ve really highlighted this because we are going through the fourth industrial revolution of digitising everything on the planet, and that means that humanities are all now digital as well. So photography, art, music, literature, all digital. So there’s STEM components to both the humanities and the sciences and technologies and engineers and math.

So my question is, and this is something too, Juliet, that you don’t have to answer right off, because you still have to get to the challenges, but my question was, this diversity of bringing our gender more into our industry, I’m hoping is going to help us pull some of the humanities back into STEM. And Lily, I think your project is a perfect example of that, because you’re working on ways in which you can solve for human problems through the use of STEM. So understanding cognitively what’s going on when we’re making the decisions in technology or engineering, and using math to do that, I think is something that we should strive towards. So instead of just focusing on STEM, bringing those humanities forward and having that blend and hoping that our gender helps that blend get to be where there’s more equal parts to it.

Julia, let’s hear from you about your challenges and then we can have a little bit of a discussion about the lenses that our gender will bring to this industry.

Juliet Luevanos: So my experience I think is pretty similar to Dani and Lily in the sense that I got used to being around men. I think even learning how to weightlift, I got used to just being around a lot of testosterone and just learning how to navigate that. But I think another experience too is the fact that, so I’m president of this club, and all the other eight members are men. So it’s just learning how to put myself in a role of a leader and learning how to delegate to men, it can be a little challenging. So I think that was something for me to learn how to navigate.

I think another thing too is that just being on site too, I learned that sometimes I’m seen as a woman first instead of just a worker on the field. I think one time that really put things in perspective because I was just talking to this person who was part of the trades and he asked me like, “Oh, have you been harassed yet?” And it was just something that I wasn’t really expecting to be asked and I didn’t think was appropriate to be asked, but it was just a moment for me to take a step back and realise, okay, this stuff still does happen sometimes, so I think for me it’s just keeping an eye out for that kind of stuff too.

Nancy Novak: Yeah, if you look into the surveys that Catalyst and McKinsey have done, it is actually very prevalent and still more than 60% of the folks that they surveyed, that they experienced some form of harassment. So it’s a serious thing that we should all take to heart. And I love being able to be glass is half-full positive about the changes that have happened in the industry, because it has gotten much, much better, but it’s still something that we have to stay diligent about. And I did want to mention there is a wonderful programme that the Steel Union has, and it’s called Be That One Guy. So it’s really about getting the advocacy from our male counterparts and speaking up and not staying complicit when they do see things that are going awry or something that’s inappropriate in the field, be that one guy that stands up and advocates and amplifies for their women coworkers. And anyone can look that up. It’s a fantastic, very successful programme that they started.

So some of the things we talked about earlier, before we got onto the live podcast here, was the behaviours and stuff when we’re trying to really have the voice of authority or be heard in a room and some of the tips in order to be able to do that. And I think it’s worth talking about because I experienced this myself, I’ll never forget, it was way late in my career when I was a national VP, where I had one of my regional VPs say to me that they thought I was getting excitable or getting emotional. And I remember at the time just pausing and saying, when I’m really excited about any initiative, and use the word passion, use motivated, whatever you want to use, I have a tendency to speak faster and my octave might go up a little bit. And sometimes that gets received as being emotional, excitable, whatever you want to call it, something that’s uncomfortable for the person receiving it.

So I just basically said, “This is what happens when I’m excited about an initiative and it’s in my DNA and I have no control over it, so I think we just need to get used to it.” And it was a fantastic conversation that I wish I could have told myself 15 years earlier, but it worked out really well because it was all about getting to know the individual that I’m working with. And it’s no different than understanding someone’s sense of humour, or someone’s tolerance for risk. The way that we receive people is getting to know them better, and that’s really where I think the challenge is, in getting to know each other on more of a personal and organic level as well as a professional level.

And what I’ve found, and this is where I want your feedback from all of you, is where there’s been situations where we’ve had to change ourselves, the way we speak, the way we dress, the way we walk, the way we do certain things, so that we get received differently versus being able to just be our true individual selves and being able to explain that it’s hard, because a lot of times you don’t have the opportunity to explain it and so you’re trying to get in that room and have a voice, and I just would love to hear from you all about those types of experiences.

Dani Hunt: Awesome. It’s really neat, actually, because I never really was able to put it into words or think about it, but of how I act differently if I’m in a room full of men versus a room for a woman and I’m like, oh yeah, I do do that. For sure, do that. And I never really thought of it very deeply, but I have that same issue where I am a very emotional person and I get really excited and I find myself sometimes, and my coworkers are awesome, they never make me feel this way, but I do feel like I’m the only woman on my team and I’m like, “Hey, don’t get emotional. Don’t get emotional. Contain it. Don’t let it out.” And I think that there is a time and a place for it. I try to stay professional, try to be. But where is that line between being myself and then still maintaining professionalism as a woman? I think I’m still trying to learn that. And I find myself, I swear a lot more when I’m around men. I don’t know if that’s just to exert my dominance, I don’t know. But I tend to do that. Because I don’t really swear that much, but I find myself like, sometimes when I’m talking to men, it comes out a lot easier then.

Nancy Novak: I feel you, Dani. I feel you. Don’t worry.

Dani Hunt: I definitely have that same thing of like, oh, I’m getting too emotional. This is not the right place for it. But also, I still want to maintain me. I would love to hear everyone else’s perspective because I think I’m still learning.

Nancy Novak It’s thought-provoking. It really is. And I think it’s not about being able to solve it just today, it’s about just thinking about it and understanding it and then figuring out different ways that we can handle or manage that. So Lily, what do you have to say about that?

Lily Astete: Yeah, I definitely have adopted behaviours to assert my position in spaces where there are mostly men or I’m also concerned about sexual harassment. So before I go places, I think about how I’m going to do my hair, how I’m going to do my makeup, so that I present fine or well, but I’m not inviting unwelcomed comments, what I’m going to wear, even down to the type of bra that I wear, because how much support am I trying to… So outside of that, I’ve adopted other behaviours, like a walk, the way I look at people, the way I talk. And mine is, if I’m comfortable, it definitely gets into some vulgar language. But when I’m not, it’s more of like a stonewall. I’m showing you you’re not going to get past this professional interaction, it’s not going any further than this. But as far as you were saying with the passion, this getting excited and everything, I have been called a bulldog in my field. Yeah, okay.

I’m definitely the type of person that if I’m passionate about something, I get very serious about it. I have a very strong boundary between what’s right and wrong to me. And I think, as people who have faced adversity, that we are often very empathetic about these things. And let’s be real, STEM, most actually, I guess all, STEM disciplines have implications for people’s lives. You should be passionate about this. There’s no room, really, in my opinion, for tone policing, when it comes down to really what’s right and wrong. And I know there’s a grey area for the old boys, but for me, there’s just really not.

Dani Hunt: I was going to say, I was like, “Ooh, [inaudible 00:21:08].”

Lily Astete: I would find that inappropriate. So I’ve never been personally called out for that but if I had been, then I probably would’ve said, “Don’t you want someone to give a crap about this?”

Nancy Novak: Excellent point of view. Really appreciate that. I have learned something, and I do like that term. Julia, how about you?

Juliet Luevanos: So I think, behaviour wise, I do see myself changing how I am based off of who I’m around, especially with men. When I’m shaking hands, I try to having very firm handshake, whereas with women, I’m not too concerned with that. Or even going to construction sites, I tend to wear baggier clothes. I just want to blend in. I’m a five-foot-one woman, so there’s only so much blending in I can do. But I definitely do try to adjust how I behave, just because I don’t want to stand out too much and be called out for certain situations. So I think that’s how I’ve chose to.

Nancy Novak: That makes a lot of sense. And I do think that handshake is a big one too. And I’ll be perfectly honest, here’s my implicit bias. I actually judge people by their handshakes sometimes. A firm handshake to me is a very welcoming handshake, but sometimes culturally it’s just so different. And I don’t know if you guys remember this story, but when we were on our pre-call, we talked about, again, this presence of authority, and it’s assumed authority because sometimes you don’t really have the opportunity to get to know the group or the person that you’re going to deal with for very long. So way back when, earlier in my career, I literally would go and buy refurbished suit coats, like old men’s suit coats, and wear those on the job, versus a Carhartt or some type of jacket, so it would appear that I had more authority, so that I would get treated as more of a management level versus just one of the workers out there.

And it was somewhat effective, I don’t know for sure. But again, it was just like the way we dress, the way we talk, the way we walk. It is about, if I don’t have a lot of time and I just want to have my voice heard, sometimes I do these things because it helps me get to where I need to go. But I did want to point out too, for the male audience that we have, that there are ways that you can advocate for and amplify the women in your group and on your team and in the industry. And that is, again, to be that one guy who sees and recognises what’s happening and just is supportive and makes sure that our voices get heard. Because as you’ve seen with this fantastic group of women here, having our voices heard is going to make a big difference in society and in the world.

Speaking of that, and that’ll segue really beautifully into mentorship and advocacy, I would love to understand a little bit more about how that’s been for you all in your career, both academic and professionally. And I really want to dive in a little bit, Juliet, on your role as president of the construction club for AGC, and what that’s been doing for you in your career and how that relates maybe back to mentorship and advocacy with women and with men.

Juliet Luevanos: In regards to just having an advocate, I really have to give a shout-out to my Professor Alves and Professor Macquarie. Both of them have been extremely passionate women that I’ve witnessed in the construction industry, they’ve shown me what it means to be empowered and knowledgeable and just own your role. I think that it wasn’t until I actually went into construction that I saw how much support is offered to students, and I really took advantage of that because they really have helped me navigate just situations throughout my career in college. Just going back to the AGCCMA Student Chapter, Professor Alves is my advisor, so she’s always there to give guidance and she’s always someone I can count on to ask questions. So I think that just goes a really long way for helping me navigate what’s best for other students that are a part of the club and wanting to get more career involvement. And I’ve been able to make a lot and create a lot of relationships and network significantly through that club so it’s been a huge blessing for me, I think.

Nancy Novak: That’s fantastic, and that’s great advice too, to get involved in organisations that are all about the advancement of women in the industry, or just in the industry themselves. Whether it’s a blended group or not, those kinds of organisations are going to build those relationships and I’m so happy that you found those great mentors there. That’s fantastic. Lily, do you want to give us your perspective about advocacy and mentorship?

Lily Astete: Sure. As far as being a woman in STEM, since I was about to finish my bachelor’s degree, so all of my professional experiences have been led by women in engineering. I worked for two years under a really supportive mentor right before I finished my bachelor’s degree, so I wasn’t really young, but I was younger. She was one of the people who really taught me to fight for myself and advocate for myself, stick up for myself when other males in the office were either sexually harassing me, to actually report it. Because, well, I was in the military, it’s not the same culture. You don’t really talk about those things, unfortunately. She was like, “No, you have to say something.” So she taught me how to actually stick up for myself in that sense. And then also, with a male in our office who was aggressive in his approach with me, and I’m not sure what that was about, but she was like, “You do a great job and you need to recognise that.” She always said, “You have a gold star. All you need to do is polish it.”

So then I worked under another female engineer and additionally, my advisor that I’ve had for the last four years, and the one thing I really appreciate about them is that they’re always there for support, but they really send me out there to figure things out on my own. It’s like being a kid in a pool, but your mom has you on one of those old leashes from the nineties. They’re there, but you got to figure it out on your own, and it’s really helped mould me and form me into someone that’s really independent at working and very competent in my field. So it’s almost like a mama bird who, “You have to figure out how to fly, I’m not going to fly you.” They’re like, “Okay, here’s how I did it. You do it, you can do it,” and they’re very supportive in that way.

Nancy Novak: I’m right here if you need me. I think that’s great. I think my dad did a lot of that for me, and I think it does help you when you get into the field because it gives you that sense of confidence, which is super important. And Dani, let’s finish up with you on the mentorship and advocacy because I think it’s so important. And if you wouldn’t mind, I think it’d be nice to, if you have any stories about it, but just that full organic conversation that happens on the golf course, how does that really build deeper relationships and ability, basically, for our coworkers and our superiors to mentor and advocate for us?

Dani Hunt: As far as mentorship goes, I actually have only had one female advisor, which was for my master’s, Dr. [inaudible 00:28:39], and she’s amazing and has been a great supporter of me, and she’s currently having her second baby so she’s just a total awesome go-getter and she’s doing things and having a family, and it’s just really cool to see how strong she is through everything. And all the rest of my advisors through my education have been men. And also the men I think, as well, in my family, taught me so much about my worth and they picked me up when I was down and they taught me how to be independent and how to be a go-getter and to go and go forward and not let anything bring you down. And I think having their support really shaped me as well, just having men around did that for me. I wish I would’ve had maybe a little bit more of women in STEM as a mentor because I think I would’ve been able to talk more about this kind of thing, does help me see how important it is to have mentorship and specifically a female in your field.

Nancy Novak: And I do think that it’s important to note, honestly, it’s about that networking and being able to really draw on different experiences and different backgrounds and different lenses and [inaudible 00:29:46].

Lily Astete: Have conversations, right? Yeah.

Nancy Novak: But we do [inaudible 00:29:49].

Lily Astete: Actually, golfing is a great way to start conversations.

Nancy Novak: Yeah. One of those ways where you spend hours with someone organically and things come up that would not come up in a business meeting or in a circumstance where you had your staff or your family member or somebody with you. And it’s human nature to advocate for those the best. It just is. I do it. I did it when I was promoting people. If I knew more about an individual, how the decision-making process was, things like that, you tend to advocate for them. So it’s a little bit more of a challenge for women when there is a male dominated environment, but it’s not unworkable, you just have to really be conscious of making sure those things happen. And let’s hope that if any of the firms are listening, it doesn’t have to be on a golf course or in a bar, there are other ways to organically be together and get to know each other, and that’s really where I think the challenge would be easier to overcome, if they could make those environments for us.

So let’s finish up here quickly with basically just what would you guys like to see change for future generations coming into our industry? Anything, if you had this crystal ball and you knew it was going to happen and you could have done something differently or you wanted something to be different in your experience, what would that have been? Let’s start out with you, Lily.

Lily Astete: Yeah, so this actually touches on what we were just talking about with this mentorship thing. And for me, it’s really important that I extend that to the people who are coming into my field after me. So I’m especially an advocate for women in STEM, but also anyone from minority groups. But that hasn’t been something that I’ve experienced everywhere I’ve gone, and so that’s called gatekeeping in the social world. And I think one thing I would change is that when I’m around or I’m in spaces and I see that I’m in a group and we are some of the only women in the room, it would be nice for us to uplift each other. I’ve had a lot, they want to be the only woman there, they think that they’re the only one who’s-

Nancy Novak: It makes me sad when I hear that. I get very sad about that.

Lily Astete: They think that they’re the only one who’s worked harder than everyone to get there, to be the only woman in the room with the men, they think that they are smarter than you, and especially when you let loose a little bit, for some of the women that I’ve encountered, especially at… I go to two universities and UCSD is my other school, it’s a research school, very high prestige, and the women I’ve encountered there were really the ones that were very cold with me and wanted to leave everyone else in the dust.

Nancy Novak: Sometimes I wonder if society hasn’t created that problem by only making room for one at the table versus strength in numbers kind of thing. So that’s an interesting thing to think about because it is sad and I sure wish that could get better.

Lily Astete: Yeah. It’s not their fault whatsoever, but I just wish that things could be different so that we don’t feel threatened in a way that we have to be that one person there and gatekeep the opportunities from other people. We should definitely be uplifting each other and sharing these experiences with one another.

Nancy Novak: Thank you so much for that. Dani?

Dani Hunt: Lily was spot on. I honestly, unfortunately have seen a lot of situations. I haven’t [inaudible 00:33:15] personally, but with some of my really good friends in the industry of it’s a women against women type of thing because they get, maybe it’s a competitive thing with each other because there’s not very many, and I think it’s so important to lift each other up and to push each other forward and I totally back that up. Like I said, I’ve had a very, really great experience with the men in my workplace, I wouldn’t necessarily want to change anything, but I got to figure out how to get more women in there that… I don’t know. I think taking the right steps forward.

Nancy Novak: And sometimes I have to say, it’s one of those things where we’re reflecting internally and say, “This has worked out well for me, but then if you look externally at the statistics, something doesn’t feel right here. Something needs to change overall.” That’s where I think you’re giving back. This podcast is an example of saying we need to be more inclusive, because inclusivity and diversity equals more innovative thought. If you have more innovative thought, you solve problems, including problems that are worldly problems. And if you solve more problems, you become more profitable, and don’t have profitable, you can solve more problems. It’s just this really wonderful cyclical way to do things, so we need to be more inclusive. And Juliet, I would love to hear your thoughts on this before we finalise our wonderful episode of Extending the Ladder, which is exactly what we’re talking about when it comes to mentorship, right?

Juliet Luevanos: Yeah, absolutely. So just going based off of what you said about having women bring new perspective and innovative solutions, I really, really agree with that. I think that one way that that can be accomplished is by having more women superintendents. I think that they bring a really special set of skills to problem solve, especially out on the field, and I feel like that’s a little bit lacking right now. So I would really, really love to see more women superintendents.

Nancy Novak: Oh my gosh, that’s such a good point. Such a good point, Juliet.

Juliet Luevanos: Right? Yeah. I love seeing women operators on the site. I love seeing women superintendents. I get starstruck seeing women superintendents. And just creating a space for women to feel comfortable and welcome and just empowered in this space where they’re expected to just hone their skills and their passions in the industry.

Nancy Novak: Excellent.

Lily Astete: If there’s one thing I would always want to put out there, it’s that I think that most women, what they want in this field, is to be seen the same as everyone else. So we should be looking at men and women the same, and we would like for people to look at us the same. So that means if you wouldn’t make that comment to a man, don’t make it to me, in a professional space. If you would not look at a male doing the same work and think that his competence is not at the level that I expect, but you do feel that way because it’s a woman, then that’s wrong. Just change your lens of me. Imagine I’m a man, and then rethink your response to me.

Nancy Novak: Lily, you hit it spot on. If you can mentally roll reverse, most of the time you’ll know whether what you’re saying is appropriate, or fits. And I think that’s really a really good way of putting those lenses on. I was going to say, we just did a podcast with Kabri Schmid from Hensel Phelps, who’s the superintendent on a $100 billion project, and this all resonated so much. And it’s interesting to me because she’s so good at about bringing her own perspective to the leadership role, which is different, but it’s celebrating the differences and enjoying the differences and understanding differences are okay. But you’re right, Lily, we don’t want to be received and treated as this or that, we want to be treated as a superintendent, or a manager, or a professor, or whatever, or engineer, not female engineer, female manager, or that sort of thing. Let’s utilise that and let’s be treated as professionals in the same way.

So I think that’s a great way to close our Extending the Ladder Podcast, and I just so appreciate all of your perspectives. Thank you so much for being on the show.