My journey to becoming Woodard & Curran’s first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager probably began back when I was a young, transracial adoptee growing up in a predominantly white, affluent Massachusetts community. My nuclear family is not biologically related. My parents are white, from modest means with little to no higher education, and working class. My older brother is also a transracial adoptee.
At that time, adoption, particularly transracial adoption, was not common. I felt like an outsider on many levels. Our lower middle-class status in a wealthy community certainly did not help. While I grew up in a loving family and experienced a privileged childhood, the feeling of being “other” cropped up on a regular basis and shapes who I am today.
All I wanted was to belong. Instead, riding the school bus was traumatizing. My stomach still does an anxious flip when I pass a school bus full of kids or spot groups of kids hanging out. Comments like “are you Chinese?” flew about freely. Followed by some crude imitation of a Chinese accent, accompanied by tugging at the corners of their eyes in a mocking manner. They would ask, “Do you have real parents?” I was particularly humiliated when two older boys stole shoes from my school bag. My mother was furious that I “lost” my good shoes because she could not afford to buy another pair. I did not want to tell her the truth because it would have been the ultimate embarrassment.
Discrimination continued as I got older, but more subtly in the form of unconscious bias. I am haunted by the stereotype that Asians excel in academics. My teachers held me to unusually high expectations and frequently viewed my work more critically compared to my white peers. When my best efforts did not measure up, educators were puzzled. Even when my high school placement test put me solidly at the college level, a step below the highest level, educators informed my parents that despite my scores, I was to enroll in all honors level courses anyway. Consequently, my high school experience was a constant struggle, working twice as hard to keep up with my advanced classmates. I continued to yearn for a sense of belonging. By the time I needed to decide my college major, my guidance counselor recommended engineering.
In college, I found myself suddenly in another marginalized group, this time because of my gender. When I graduated, I was one of three women in my college’s civil engineering program. This continued in the workforce where most of my colleagues were men. Many of these men had backgrounds in construction or came from a long line of engineers. This new otherness intimidated me. I found myself working long hours, spending extra time studying plans and understanding construction to “catch up” to my male colleagues. I feared being perceived as incompetent. I still did not belong.
StRiving for Equity
Looking back on two decades of work, I have no regrets. My career has been incredibly enlightening. What I can say with certainty is that I have grown in wisdom and character, which comes from years of facing challenges and overcoming adversity. Engineering afforded me the opportunity to feed my technical side, while also serving a higher purpose to better the environment and serve our communities. Most significantly, it led me to this extraordinary opportunity. As Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager, I can continue to use my problem-solving skills, but now, I am focused on social justice and the human condition within our organization, industry, and society.
According to the National Science Board’s Science & Engineering Indicators from 2018, 66.6 percent of employees surveyed were white, 20.6 percent were Asian, 6 percent were Hispanic, 4.8 percent were black, and smaller fractions identified as American Indian, Alaska or Hawaiian native, or more than one race. The same study found women only constituted 28.4 percent of the science and engineering workforce. Members of the LGBTQIA+, veterans, and disabled communities are also underrepresented in this sector. It is my goal to work with members of these and other communities through our recently established volunteer-led Employee Resource Groups (ERG) to identify opportunities for Woodard & Curran to not only be more diverse and inclusive, but also a more equitable workplace, so that for many who have sought belonging for as long as I have, maybe they can find it here.