Century West News

Women of Federal Way

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we turn our focus to Century West Engineering’s all-woman office in Federal Way, WA. We sat down to chat with Elizabeth Newton, PE; Jamie Suh, EIT; and Renee Stiehl to gain a glimpse into their unique experiences and sources of strength that propel them forward in a historically male-dominated field.

What is your role with Century West Engineering?

Liz is a licensed professional engineer who takes the lead on design projects and helps with project management as much as she can. She enjoys being a part of the various aspects of an engineering project.

Renee is a project coordinator and Jill-of-All-Trades. Her main responsibility lies in billing, but she also keeps both our Federal Way and Bothell offices organized while serving as a resource to local staff whenever needs arise.

Jamie is an Engineer-in-Training who assists project managers with plan production, engineering, and construction.

Who has invested in you along your career path and how?

The theme here was unanimously family.

This is Liz’s second career. She returned to school to get her Civil Engineering degree with one-year-old twin toddlers and effuses, “I couldn’t have done it without the support of my husband and parents. There were a lot of nights where I did homework instead of mom duties.”

Renee has also had a shift in her career and had a lot of support from her mother who not only encouraged her dreams, but found her this role and persuaded her to take the leap. “She’s like my rock, my mom. She’s always been there for me and has always been my biggest cheerleader in my life.”

Jamie received a lot of support from her family who helped her achieve her civil engineering dream. She also found support from the first engineering company she worked with, who not only hired her during a global pandemic but invested in her launch in engineering. “It was pretty difficult to find a job during that time, but that company decided to hire me, and that’s where I really got to start my career as an engineer.”

What kind of influence do you strive to instill in your fellow colleagues and peers?

Liz confessed, “This is a really hard question for me. I hope that I encourage people to show up as their authentic selves. There is no one right way to be an engineer.”

Renee followed up with, “I think it’s important to be open-minded and be able to accept or at least try to understand other people’s workstyles and be flexible.” Coming from work environments where colleagues were not always supportive of each other, Renee sees the value in a healthy work environment, “I think it’s important that women support each other, be open-minded and kind, but not a pushover. Here at Century West, I’ve learned a lot from the women that I work with, and it’s been a breath of fresh air to come to work with Liz and Jamie. It’s a nice place to come to work every day.

Jamie included, “I strive to be a positive influence on my coworkers by showing them how much growth and difference can be made in our careers when we surround ourselves with the right support.”

Which women inspire you the most?

Another resounding and shared response: mothers.

Liz’s mother was a mechanical engineer. “She went back to school when I was a baby and ended up running a nuclear reactor in the 1980s, which was unheard of for women.” Liz’s mother continues to be a sounding board to Liz in her engineering career today. “She’s retired now, but a lot of the things I come across today, I can go tell her and she’s like ‘yep, this has happened all of these times’ and can tell me the way she handled it and what she wished she had done differently.” As much as the world has grown and adapted, Liz recognizes that some of the same struggles are still present in today’s workspaces.

Renee’s mother faced struggles raising her children without a lot of family support. “She was a single mom when I was growing up. We didn’t have a lot of money, but she still made everything nice. She is just a really strong woman.” Her mother continues to inspire Renee to follow her heart, reminding her that nothing is out of reach.

Jamie added to the mom appreciation by saying, “My mom inspires me the most. She actually didn’t go to college, but was able to send my dad, me, and my brother to college by working. I think that’s really inspiring.”

Do you feel supported in your career by Century West? How?

Liz states, “Yes. I think I’ve been really able to develop relationships with people throughout the company that act as mentors for me.” Working with Century West, she feels like she always has a plethora of options for the kinds of projects she can work on with regular encouragement from her supervisors to pursue the ones that align with her own goals. “Having Melanie [Johansen] as a supervisor, and before that it was Kurt [Addicott], they have always tried to provide me opportunities. I feel like I have a lot of say over the projects I want to work on and want to do.”

Renee comes from a marketing and writing background and has found a smooth transition to the engineering world thanks to the support and autonomy of her supervisor, Kurt Addicott, and Rocky Brooks, who oversees her accounting duties, “Kurt trusts me and lets me run with things. He respects my input. And Rocky, I’ve learned a ton from her. She’s shown me so many billing tactics, and she’s such a support. I appreciate that.” Renee credits them as major resources for learning and growth throughout her journey with Century West, which in turn has allowed her to be a support and resource to others.

Jamie has felt supported as well, “I get to work on various projects where I can learn new things and grow as an engineer. Century West also helped me set goals within my career and better see what the next steps could be, such as performing a broader range of engineering tasks and preparing to obtain my professional engineering license.”

Do you have any words of encouragement for the young women preparing to enter the world of civil engineering?

Liz says, “Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to try something new. I’ve gotten far by being willing to tell people ‘Yeah, I don’t know how to do that, but I will sure give it a shot’ and then we figure it out as we go.”

Renee says, “Have confidence and go for it! Choose the area of engineering that fits best and give it your all. Be nice to support staff because we can help you get out of a pickle sometimes!”

Jamie says, “Be confident in your ability to perform tasks and strive to find a company or workplace that best fits the culture you are looking for. Your mental health is important, and it’s important to find a place that makes you happy rather than working overtime every week and not having a good work-life balance.”

What are your hopes for the future of representation within the workplace?

Liz says, “A bit of a snarky answer, but I hope to never have to answer questions like this again, that is the kind of representation I would hope to see. I really hope that my daughters don’t have to, that it just becomes the way that it is, that it’s normal. The c-level suites of each company reflect the diversity of the entry-level people at their companies.”

Renee says, “I hope that the presence of women in the workplace continues to get stronger, to keep going for the big career fields like medicine, engineering, and tech.”

Jamie says, “I hope that in the future women in traditionally male-dominated workplaces will be more common, especially in the engineering world. We have so much potential, and we can do anything.”

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