Name: Gladys Yang

Title: Associate, Mechanical Engineer, Stantec

Age: 36

Educational Experience: Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering with a Professional Internship, Queen’s University

Professional Credentials/Accreditations: Professional Engineer (P.E.) in California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, and Hawaii, and a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional (AP)

Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: ASHRAE Member (Southern California Chapter)

What caused you to/when did you fall in love with engineering?

I’ve always loved numbers and equations. In secondary school, I found myself gravitating toward math and physics, which eventually led me to apply for engineering school (thanks to the encouragement from my big sis). From day one of engineering school, I felt right at home. We weren’t deriving equations or solving abstract problems, but, rather, we took math and science and applied it to real-life scenarios.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?

Collaborating with a team of people with different skills (architects, engineers, contractors, etc.) to design and build something that can have a long-lasting impact on our communities is incredibly rewarding. It’s very gratifying to drive by a building I've worked on and see it’s serving a purpose.

Describe the proudest moment in your career.

There have been two moments. First, was when I placed my professional engineer stamp on a drawing for the first time. Even though I had been doing mechanical design for a couple of years up to that point, seeing my name on a set of engineering documents was a different sentiment. When I was in university, mechanical engineering was always known as a male-dominant field, so I felt like I was helping to close that gender gap just a little bit. Second, was seeing the very first project I worked on from design through to construction come to completion. The project was very fast-paced, had multiple complex mechanical building systems, and met high energy efficiency and sustainability goals. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite and most memorable projects. I learned so much from the experience, and it has positively impacted my work since then.

What challenges do women face in this profession? Can you give a personal example? Why aren’t there more women in engineering? How can we increase the number of women in engineering?

As women in any male-dominated profession, it can be a battle to alter the perception, both our own and others, that women are less qualified or capable. Because we don’t see many people like us, finding success can feel daunting, and we end up setting a lower benchmark for ourselves to fend off the fear of failure or being exposed. Studies have shown that men are promoted based on growth potential, whereas women are promoted based on experience, so there’s that imbalance where we are always trying to prove ourselves. Personally, I’m fortunate to work for a firm that values diversity and promotes career empowerment for women, but the industry, as a whole, still has some work to do.

I think we don’t see as many women in engineering because it’s still very much seen as a man’s profession. I still get the “wow, I imagine it’s mostly male,” or “what is it like being in a male-dominant profession?” response when people find out I’m an engineer. To increase the number of women in engineering, it’s important to introduce engineering and provide exposure at a young age. With the rise in STEM and mentoring programs tailored toward young girls, we’re moving in the right direction.

What does your day-to-day job entail?

Every day is a little different. I oversee projects of various sizes from the proposal phase up to construction completion. This can include writing proposals, doing conceptual design, performing load calculations, finalizing drawings, attending meetings, and visiting job sites. I also currently lead the Southern California mechanical team in my company, mentoring junior staff and managing workload and finances. Each day can have its own challenges and triumphs, which keeps me on my toes.

What drives/motivates you every day?

As a child of immigrants, I know the sacrifices my parents made, leaving the familiar for the unknown, to allow me to have a better future. That motivates me to do my best and be a better version of who I was yesterday.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?

Like many others, my company moved to work from home very quickly. With technology these days and the various communication platforms out there, it was a very smooth transition. I was very fortunate that most of my projects kept moving forward, so it was business as usual. The pandemic did bring on new learning opportunities. Indoor air quality became an even more critical portion of building systems design. Looking at various ventilation and air filtration technologies have been very interesting.

Personally, the pandemic was actually really good for me. Instead of always traveling somewhere, it was an opportunity to slow down. I slept a lot, worked out, caught up with friends I haven’t talked to in a long time, and cooked well-balanced meals.

What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?

I would love to build a tiny home on wheels and be able to live off the grid for a year.

What’s one thing no one knows about you?

I’ve gone bungee jumping twice and skydiving once. I would do both again in a heartbeat.

List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success.

Many people have been integral in helping me succeed and shape my career thus far. The first mechanical principal I worked for taught me a lot of the technical side of things and the importance of mentoring. Even though he was very busy, he always made the time to sit down with junior engineers to go over the design and explain anything we may not understand. Now, when a junior engineer approaches me with questions, I make sure I give them the time and attention that others did for me. The second mechanical principal I worked for taught me the idea of servant leadership. The success of a team does not stem from one person, but, rather, it’s a collaborative effort. When we help our team to develop and perform as highly as possible, we all benefit from the result. Another individual showed me how to be a good team lead, doing regular check-ins with each team member and fostering both a professional and personal relationship. No matter how many years of experience someone has, they’re an important part of the team, and they matter.

What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?

If you have a passion for science and engineering, don’t be afraid to pursue it. I didn’t know what engineering was until I was in university. I just knew I liked math and physics. Surround yourself with people who you can work through challenges with, can be your biggest advocate, and will encourage you to be your own biggest advocate.