August 26, 2019 | Updated: October 4, 2019
Women in infrastructure are on the rise and the opportunities are powerful. IEEE Senior Member and member of IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE), Jill Tietjen recalls her own journey to the forefront of the electric utilities sector: “I started attending the University of Virginia in 1972, which was only the third year that women were admitted as undergraduate students. I began my studies as a math major as opposed to enrolling in the engineering school, as nobody, not even my father, an engineer with a PhD, recommended that I pursue an education in engineering.”
Now a leading authority on both innovation in utilities and women in STEM, clearly Tietjen did not let any obstacles stand in the way of pursuing a career in technology with a focus on infrastructure, becoming a strong advocate for the participation of women and girls in STEM, establishing scholarships for women in engineering and technology and serving as a mentor to her female peers.
“We have a tremendous need to modernize our infrastructure,” she adds. “As a society, we benefit greatly from encouraging women and girls to study STEM-focused topics and to pursue careers in power and energy-related fields, as well as those related to construction.”
With energy-related sectors continuing to outpace the rest of the economy in terms of job creation, women are also increasing their presence as significant contributors to these industries.
As compared to 2018, the role of women is on the rise, with increasing participation in key infrastructure sectors by six percent. In energy-related sectors, women are comprising up to 33 percent of workers across traditional electric power generation, sustainable power generation and fuel-related fields in 2019, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Transitioning our infrastructure away from its traditional roots will require a tremendous amount of effort from a workforce challenged to merely maintain it, let alone modernize it in earnest. Tietjen notes that women are well-positioned to support what could be a monumental undertaking as our culture transitions away from the fuel systems and physical infrastructure of yesteryear. Beyond this, she said, the emergence of renewable resources, electric vehicles, distributed energy systems and other disruptive technologies make infrastructure an ideal field to break into.
“I found my career in utilities to be tremendously satisfying – aiding the provision of electricity, something we, as a society, mostly take for granted, over the years has been an immensely rewarding experience,” says Tietjen.
Successful IEEE engineers like Tietjen use their own trials, triumphs and everything in between to serve as role models for the next generation of women in STEM, through such global networks as IEEE WIE, wherein IEEE members and volunteers are dedicated to promoting women engineers and scientists and inspiring girls around the world to pursue their academic interests in careers in engineering and science. IEEE WIE is also committed to facilitating the recruitment and retention of women in technical disciplines globally.