According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up only 14 percent of those employed in the architecture and engineering occupations. With a desire to mentor and support women in architecture and engineering, Katie Lemler, PE, a Senior Mechanical Engineer at KLH Engineers, recently founded the Central Ohio Women in Architecture/Engineering in Columbus, Ohio.
Tell us about you. How long have you been in engineering? What is your role at KLH?
I’ve been in the MEP world since I graduated from Purdue with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 2001. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it will be 18 years coming up this fall! For those who are unfamiliar, MEP stands for mechanical, electrical and plumbing. MEP engineers work alongside architects, structural and civil engineers to design new buildings and renovations to existing buildings. The MEP portions of the building are the guts of the building – heating and cooling, plumbing, power, lighting, etc. I am a Senior Mechanical Engineer at KLH and I also do project management. I have worked on projects from Kroger to the Ohio State University Medical Campus as well as pools, fire stations, office spaces and more!
What inspired you to start Central Ohio Women in Architecture/Engineering? What do you hope to achieve?
It has been building up over a long time, but I’ll give you the last part of the story. I’ve been wanting to figure out a way to support and mentor other women in this industry, so I decided to set up the support network I wish I had when I started out. I was also inspired by my sister raving about a professional women’s group she was a member of in Indiana. When I started looking for a group to join in Columbus, Ohio, they were not what I wanted. I thought, ‘Why not make a new group that is what I want? I can’t be the only one who wants this group!’
What kind of topics do you discuss at your meetings?
At past meetings, we’ve talked about the challenges of working in a male-dominated industry. Even in architecture, which typically has more women than engineering, the leadership teams are mostly men. The topics at our meetings include being the first person to negotiate maternity leave at the company; dealing with blatant and subtle sexism; being the only woman in the room; why or why not and how to pursue leadership roles in our companies; how to mentor women just starting out in the industry, college or high school; other groups and organizations of which we are members; and events, books, podcasts, etc. that we have found valuable. That’s just a sample!
Going forward, we are planning to have a few speakers a year as well as meetings focused on articles, books, and round table discussions on topics relevant to women in this industry. On March 19, Yanitza Brongers-Marrero, President of AIA Ohio, will be speaking to us about AIA’s diversity initiative. Yanitza is also an Associate Principal and the Director of Housing at Moody Nolan.
For those who are interested in activities outside of the monthly meetings, we are planning to set up small mentoring groups of three to four people and a few happy hours.
Where and how often do you meet?
Currently, we are meeting monthly at lunch. Going forward, our meetings will be the same day each month and rotate between three of our members’ companies with good-sized conference rooms. Thanks to Moody Nolan, Schaefer and MKSK for volunteering your spaces!
What has been the response?
Mostly positive! The women I reached out to in my network were very excited. Many of those women asked to add others and the group kept growing. One even told me she had just been discussing how there really should be a group for women who work on the design side of the construction industry. As busy as so many of us are, I’ve only had a few that weren’t interested. However, many stayed on the invitation list as they want to attend in the future. We’ve had eight to 12 women at each meeting and will have 15 at our fifth meeting on March 19!
How can other women in the industry join?