As International Women in Engineering Day approaches, we celebrate the achievements of women engineers and reflect on the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the engineering industry. At K Friese + Associates (KFA), we are proud to embrace these values and foster an environment where women can thrive as leaders in engineering. With a strong focus on promoting equality, supporting professional growth, and engaging with the community, we continue to make significant strides toward building a more inclusive industry.
In the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) Industry, women have been historically underrepresented. However, at KFA, we take pride in the fact that nearly 40% of our staff are women. We believe that diversity breeds a wealth of perspectives, leading to innovative ideas and better solutions. Together, we celebrate the importance of inclusivity in shaping a stronger future for our industry.
WE Make a Difference: Recognizing Women’s Contributions to Engineering
When Karen A. Friese took the PE exam, she was one of only eight women in Texas who sat for the test, compared to the 57 men who also took it that round. Despite being a minority in her field during the late 1980s, Karen’s relentless work ethic, her respect for colleagues and clients, and unwavering support from mentors propelled her to success. In 2003, she established KFA, where she has now devoted two decades to nurturing the firm’s growth while advocating for equal opportunities for all team members.
Karen previously served as President of American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Texas and has filled national roles with ACEC. She was one of the founding members of the Women in Leadership group for ACEC National. She was recently appointed to the Texas Board of Professional Engineers and Surveyors and, since becoming a part of the Lochner family of companies, currently sits on the Lochner Board of Directors.
WE Belong: Empowering Women in Engineering
In 2021, KFA initiated a Women’s Group to develop and empower women engineers as leaders in our field. Today, this incredible group comprises over 30 talented women from diverse roles within KFA, both engineering and non-engineering. Led by Mica Garza, PE, a dedicated Project Engineer in our Water Practice, we foster a supportive environment where women thrive, collaborate, and inspire one another.
“Leading this year’s KFA Women’s Group has been an enriching experience for me.” shares Mica. “I have the opportunity to not only develop my own leadership skills but help create a supportive environment for KFA women to thrive and collaborate. As a participant, I enjoy connecting with like-minded women to gain insights and receive support.”
As we join the Lochner family of companies, KFA eagerly anticipates the next phase of growth for our Women’s Group. We look forward to welcoming our new colleagues from across the nation, as we continue to foster growth, camaraderie, and empowerment.
WE Inspire: The Future of Women in Engineering
At KFA, inspiring the next generation of women engineers is a true passion. Recently, we had the privilege of hosting two exceptional high school juniors from The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, providing them with a week-long internship that offered real-world exposure to the engineering industry. To get a sneak preview of a full project lifecycle in five days, the students completed an accelerated version of a real-life roadway project, the SH 45 Gap Study. Beginning with project planning and data collection, the students developed a draft roadway alignment for the greenfield project. Then they participated in a field visit and meetings with “property owners” (incognito KFA employees) before revising their final alignments and delivering a final presentation on their work.
“Hosting the high school interns was a lot of fun, and their questions and insights helped us look at our everyday work with fresh eyes. One of the common themes was that civil engineering is a people-centered business; we start with lines on a map, but the magic really begins when we start talking to stakeholders and the public to find the best solution,” shares Caroline LaFollette, PE, KFA Technical Writer.
Along the same lines, this past fall we organized a fajita dinner at our Austin office, where we engaged in meaningful conversations with a dozen women engineering students from the University of Texas Cockrell School of Engineering. We enjoyed learning about the many factors driving the university students’ interest in engineering – everything from problem solving and community engagement to sustainability and making an impact on the built environment.
WE Elevate: Associations that Support Women in Engineering
Our commitment to supporting women’s success extends to involvement outside the office. We actively engage with organizations such as the Texas Women’s Leadership Institute (TWLI) and the WTS Heart of Texas (HOT) Chapter. We contribute to these organizations by sharing our expertise, participating in mentorship programs, and promoting gender equality within the transportation and engineering sectors.
Earlier this year, KFA engineer Charlotte Gilpin presented to TWLI about working with consulting engineers. The group had a rich discussion ranging from qualifications-based selection to grant-funded services. Through the WTS HOT Chapter, Joe Cantalupo and Charlotte have served as mentors to local young professionals, and Charlotte has also mentored three high school students from the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders through the WTS Transportation YOU program. In 2021, the WTS HOT Chapter awarded Joe with the Honorable Ray LaHood Man of the Year Award, in recognition of his contributions to the advancement of women and minorities in the transportation field. In addition, KFA Associate Vicki Ortega previously served as the WTS HOT Programs chair and the Treasurer as a way to give back and promote professional development within the transportation industry. In 2017, KFA received the Employer of the Year Award from the WTS HOT Chapter.
WE Support: Flexible Work Solutions for Working Mothers
For many years KFA has been a steadfast advocate for flexibility in the workplace, offering employees options including alternative work schedules, flexible work hours, reduced work weeks, and work-from-home arrangements. These options have been particularly valuable for new mothers reentering the workplace, to foster a supportive and inclusive environment as they face unique challenges in balancing their personal and professional responsibilities.
“I feel very fortunate that KFA has been so flexible with me and my schedule during my 18-year career here. Working a reduced schedule has made working motherhood just a little easier for me,” shares Jennifer Sullivan, PE, Senior Engineer.
WE are Proud to Do Our Part for Women in Engineering
As we celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, KFA proudly embraces the principles of DEI, cultivating an inclusive culture that empowers women in engineering and beyond. Through our initiatives such as the KFA Women’s Group, community outreach, and support for working mothers, we are actively contributing to a more diverse and equitable industry. We remain committed to fostering a future where women play vital roles in shaping the engineering landscape and inspiring generations to come.
Read more about Lochner’s commitment to fostering diversity, inclusion, and empowerment within its workforce and the broader community: https://www.hwlochner.com/news-lochner-celebrates-women-in-engineering-day/