Kerryn Fulton: Structuring a new era of civil engineering at York-based firm
At 42, Kerryn Fulton became the youngest president and CEO of the York-based civil engineering firm C.S. Davidson Inc. She's also the company's first woman leader.
Fulton came on board with C.S. Davidson as an engineer in the structural department in 2001. Fulton became the company's sixth leader when she was named president and CEO in July 2016, replacing John A. Klinedinst, who transitioned into the role in 2008 after David M. Davidson Jr. moved into a chief financial officer role. Davidson represented three generations of family ownership. The firm became an employee-owned firm in 2003.
Though Fulton said assuming the role of president and CEO has been an honor, it was never her intent to achieve that status. Instead, she wanted to simply be “the best structural engineer” she could be.
Of the 80 employees at the employee-owned firm - a company with a 93-year history - 40 are engineers and four are women, she said. Throughout the workforce in the U.S., only 13 percent of engineers are women, according to the Society of Women Engineers, a nonprofit based in Illinois.
Fulton graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996 with a degree in engineering. While attending the university, a majority of her classmates were male, said Fulton. But outnumbered doesn’t mean unwelcome, she added.
The percentage of women earning bachelor’s degrees in engineering in the U.S. was 21.3 percent from 2016-2017, the Society of Women Engineers reported.
And while more women are indeed obtaining engineering degrees than in years past, the percentage of women currently in engineering has actually remained relatively stagnant for years as many are leaving the field, said Dr. Roberta Rincon, senior manager of research at Society of Women Engineers.
Many women leave the engineering workforce for various reasons, but organizational culture seems to be the root cause of attrition, she said. The society did a study in 2016 on this issue and found that 30 percent of women engineers who leave the engineering workforce cite workplace climate as the reason.
Fulton hopes to be a part of the movement to change that.
Over the summer, Fulton met with a group of young girls from Young Thinkers of York about the opportunities for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, and CPBJ chatted with the CEO about why that was important to her.
CPBJ: What made you want to pursue the field?
Fulton: My dad worked in construction his whole life as a heavy equipment operator. I got that initial exposure from my dad, sitting on his lap in dump trucks, backhoes or excavators. There was also a career fair at my high school - Juniata High School - when I was a sophomore. An architect came in and showed visuals of these neat building projects and I thought: I could work with buildings. That could be a really neat field.
CPBJ: Did you face any challenges along the way?
Fulton: I felt like, working in construction, I felt like my male counterparts understood the construction business inherently, but I tried not to let it bother me. I really had to press down that instinct or self-doubt of: “Do I belong here?”
My first job at out of college, I was really fortunate to have encountered a male engineer that took me under his wing. He provided a safe place to ask questions. Without that mentor, I’m not sure I would have that confidence to continue.
CPBJ: Why is it important to speak to young girls about your experience?
Fulton: There’s not a lot of women working in this field. I would really like to help other women, young ladies who would become women and see better representation. Career awareness starts to take hold when they’re still in middle school. I’d like for these young women to realize this is a great field to work in. You do belong. If I can do it, you can do it.
CPBJ: What kind of advice would you offer women in male-dominated fields?
Fulton: Four things:
- Find a good mentor and a good support structure.
- When you’re in the field, raise your hand for the tough assignments. Earn respect of peers.
- Keep a sense of humor about you.
- Conduct yourself gracefully. You are a minority, all eyes are on you. As such, the way you behave and conduct yourself is really important.