OBOA President Elect, Joyanne Beckett is a Building Engineer for the City of Hamilton and an active member of the OBOA Board of Directors. We asked Joyanne to provide us with her perspective as a woman who has been in the industry for more than 20 years, and here’s what she told us:
Why did you become an engineer?
My strengths in high school were math and science and computers. A bit of a nerd… I wanted to be a teacher. But my grandfather and one of my uncles are engineers and my father worked with engineers at the Ministry of Transportation (MTO). He took me to his office to meet the group and specifically speak with a female engineer. After that I decided to pursue engineering at University. I also was fortunate to work as a student engineer during three of my summers at the MTO. Lucky for me, in the spring of 1994 when I graduated, the City of Hamilton Building Department was hiring after many years of a hiring freeze. The City called the Civil Engineering office at McMaster University and in turn they passed this opportunity on to some of my graduating class. The City ended up hiring four of us, all female, and we are still in the building code industry today.
Did you face any challenges as a woman in the engineering program in university? If yes, can you explain.
I really don’t think I did. I know many women had challenges, but during university and my career to date, I haven’t faced challenges specifically because of being a woman in this industry. From our graduating class that year, approximately 10% were women. I have always been fortunate to have been treated fairly and respectfully in school, in the office and on a construction site. I don’t even like to say I was/am treated like “one of the guys” because I don’t quite think that way either. I just feel, almost always, like an equal. I would probably say in my earlier days as a building official I faced more challenges because of my age from more “experienced” individuals in our field that than I did specifically because of gender.
Why did you get into the building industry?
While I admit I began my career in this industry almost as a fluke, I continue to be in this industry because I really like my work as a building official. I enjoy reviewing and issuing building permits, working with owners, developers, designers as well as my colleagues. Every day and every permit I issue is different from the one before. I enjoy overcoming the challenges of getting a building permit issued and helping people ensure the places where they live and work are built safely. I take pride in helping people achieve success by working with them to get their permits issued, their homes built or their businesses up and running in the City of Hamilton. It is also very satisfying to see those projects come to life in the community where I live.
Why do you volunteer with the OBOA?
My initial intention when I ran for a position on the board was simply to become more involved in the building official world. And that is exactly what has happened. Working with OBOA staff and fellow board members over the last five years has been rewarding both personally and professionally. The networking connections across municipalities both large and small, the friends I have made and the opportunities that I have been exposed to in the industry are, and continue to be, invaluable. I have learned more than I ever imagined I would. I enjoy seeing all the different perspectives of how our role affects others and enjoy being on the front line advocating for and advancing our profession.
How do you balance career and family life?
Very carefully. For me, like many of the OBOA board members, my family always comes first. I have three young daughters who have very busy lives. I have a very supportive network of family and friends that I can rely on when necessary and I have pretty good time management skills. I try to let the little things go (like cleaning the house) and focus on the big-ticket items (like spending time with my family). It’s a work in progress every day.
How would you encourage women who want to get into the building industry?
I was lucky when I was younger because I had a family that always encouraged me, yet gave me the room to figure it out on my own. I started a career with an amazing group of colleagues and close friends who always had my back and encouraged me to do my best. I would say to be successful in a career in the building official industry, regardless of gender, you need to be a problem solver – and enjoy it. You need to be able to think in the grey between the black and white of the building code. Be confident, ask questions, accept as much help and training as you are offered.
There’s definitely been a change in the building industry since I started my career 25 years ago with far more female building officials today. More than half of our building engineers in Hamilton are women. In the last few years, we actually hired more women than men in entry level positions simply because they were the best candidates for the job. I also see a shift in the percentage of female students taking the building code courses that I teach at Mohawk College.
The one thing I would do differently if I could, would be to get involved in a professional association much earlier than I did. Whether that’s the OBOA, PEO, OAA, or other industry association. The networking and opportunities available through these types of professional associations enhance and further your career more than you can imagine.
Given that you have three daughters, what advice do you give them as they consider career options?
My daughters are all teens now and are starting to think more about what they want to “be” one day. We are raising them to believe that they can do anything they want. I have a niece who is an electrician, another who is in 3rd year Engineering at university and a daughter considering a co-op in Grade 11 in a predominantly male field. They are surrounded by my engineer and building official friends all the time. I don’t think it’s ever occurred to my girls that they shouldn’t or couldn’t chose any career, sport or hobby just because they’re female. Although, they often tell me that they aren’t going to be engineers (“no offense, mom”) and that’s fine by me.
We live in an all female house where we either figure out how to do what needs to be done or fix whatever is broken. I’m not so much giving them advice on career options as I am trying to demonstrate that I enjoy what I do, even though it isn’t always easy and I encourage them to consider all their options and to take part in a variety of activities or programs to see what it is they enjoy doing.
We hope that they find and follow their passions and figure out what they want to do in a way that is fulfilling to each of them. We’ll keep exposing them to as much as we can as we see where their interests and strengths lie just like my dad did. It doesn’t really matter to me what they choose to do. And it doesn’t matter that they are girls.