Bad Idea. You'll Flunk Out

A top-tier engineer tells of the slights she endured to conquer the summit

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After graduating, I took a position at the Milwaukee, Wis., office of CH2M HILL, now one of the largest engineering firms in the world, to work on the Milwaukee Water Pollution Abatement Program, a project for the upgrading of sewage-treatment plants and the sewer tunnel system. One of the very first jobs I was put on was as a tunnel inspector. The project was awarded to an Italian contractor. I still remember so vividly to this day when I sat in a preconstruction meeting and the project manager was introducing his inspectors. When he introduced me, the only woman, this older Italian man pointed at me--he wouldn't even look at me--and said, "That woman will not go down in my tunnel." I was very fortunate to have a project manager who looked at this man and said, "I will be more than happy to award this to the next lowest bidder tomorrow morning." Of course they resolved their differences. But I did have my problems when I went out to the site for the first time. I went down in a bucket off of a crane to be lowered into the shaft, and the crane driver swung the cage wildly on purpose. But my grandfather said to treat those sorts of things with humor. So I yelled out, "I've been on better rides at the amusement park!" And that's the last time he ever did that.

I eventually left CH2M HILL because I felt I wasn't going to advance any further. I moved to my current firm, Nielsen-Wurster Group, a 250-person management-consulting firm based at that time in New York City, that does risk management and dispute resolution. When I started working on the West Coast, around the late '80s, the project manager called the president and said, "We would really, really like to hire your company, but only under one condition. That you don't put Pat Galloway on the job, because we just really are not going to be able to deal with a woman on this project." The president came to me and said, "We'll give up this job. We don't like our employees being treated this way, but we want to discuss it with you." It was a huge job for the firm, and I said, "Frankly, I'm not offended by it. He's got his own personal issues, but it's ridiculous for us not to take this job."

In another instance, I had problems on a job for CalEnergy, an energy company. The vice president of construction was an older gentleman who hadn't encountered a lot of women in his profession. It was 1999. I was the principal, the project manager was a woman and their lawyer was a woman. So he walked into the room, there were three women standing there, and he was looking around thinking, "So when is the guy going to walk in?" The first couple of meetings were difficult, but as the project went on we became good friends. Two years ago, when he retired, he said, "Would there be a place for me at Nielsen-Wurster?" I said, "You would work for me, a woman?" "You know," he said, "you taught me a lesson. It doesn't matter if you're male or female, as long as you can get the job done. I've learned a lot from you." He's now the managing director of our Asia-Pacific operations in Melbourne, Australia. But considering this happened only five years ago, it shows we have a long way to go. --As told to Deirdre van Dyk

Galloway is CEO of the Nielsen-Wurster Group, a management-consulting firm, and former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the first woman ever to serve in that office

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