• Rachel McCaffery, PE, Advantage Engineers

Opportunity for rising leaders in STEM professions

How do you contribute to your company?

I have been in my current position for almost one year, and came to Advantage Engineers from an international engineering company. I contribute to Advantage through the diversity of my experiences in the civil and environmental industry, as well as my project management, client management, and operations experience. I also have technical knowledge and management experience in the fields of both environmental and geotechnical engineering, which has been critical because these two specialty service areas are often closely tied on projects for our real estate development clients.

What qualities/personality traits do you feel make you most successful?

I have an educational background and work experience in both engineering and business. This has been key to my ability to lead project teams, operating units, and presently a division of an engineering company, as I understand what is required for both the technical execution and the financial success of our projects and other endeavors. In regard to personality, I have all of the typical engineer’s traits (organized, critical, detail-oriented, etc.), but I am also a good communicator, resourceful, and can relate to others.

What challenges/obstacles do you feel you needed to overcome to become as successful as you are today?

My 7th grade math teacher kicked me out of class most days and when I asked him why, he responded that I was distracting the class by talking (which was probably true) and that girls are not good at math anyway. If I had chosen to believe him, I am sure things would have ended up very differently for me. Later, when I was in college, I would get asked why I was working so hard towards my engineering degree. I needed to work a little harder than others at times to overcome the perceptions of my capability. But I believe this is happening a little less frequently now to young women than when I was in school. I am hopeful these biases will eventually fade away.

What was the most defining moment for you in your profession?

I am very grateful to one of my former bosses, who still continues to be a friend and a mentor. Besides everything he taught me from his experience in the construction and development industries, he is also a U.S. Marine. The most valuable lessons I learned from him were about the true meanings of leadership and accountability. A defining moment for me was being literally thrown out of his office as a young project manager. He had asked “Who was in charge on this?” and I fumbled with the answer; he was teaching me that a true leader takes full ownership for the actions of their teams.

Who do you feel was most influential in your life when choosing this profession?

I owe my choice of engineering to my dad, who steered me in this direction because of my abilities in science and math. I believe my ability to take on leadership roles can be attributed to both of my parents. I was never told as a kid that there was something I couldn’t achieve.

What word of advice would you give to a woman about to go into your field?

There is a lot of opportunity in the engineering field for capable technical professionals who also have leadership abilities. However, in order to be successful as a woman choosing this path, you need to have thick skin and be assertive. There will be people who try to minimize you or tell you can’t achieve your goals because you’re female. Just shrug it off, put what they said behind you, and prove them wrong.

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