AISC Celebrates Women in Construction Week: Wednesday Morning Edition

Natalie Tse, SE, LEED AP, Project Manager, Tipping Structural Engineers

It's Women in Construction Week, and we're celebrating by highlighting an array of women in the steel industry every day this week. Today, we're featuring Natalie Tse, SE, LEED AP, a project manager with Tipping Structural Engineers. Find out how she got her start in the industry, what challenges she's had to overcome, and what changes she'd like to see for the industry moving forward.

How did you get your start in the industry? 
Tse: In high school, I loved art, math, solving problems, and building and creating things. Unfortunately, I was never l really exposed to what engineering was, and definitely not aware of the breadth of career options associated with applied sciences. It wasn’t until I was about a year or two into my undergraduate degree, that I started to question my decision to study biology and math. 

That's when I "discovered" structural engineering: A profession that requires technical skill, spatial awareness, creativity, excellent communication skills, collaboration, patience, perseverance, and curiosity. No matter where you are in your career, every day is unique and the learning never ends.

What barriers or challenges have you had to overcome as a female in the industry?
Tse: As a mother of three children, I experienced some challenges in establishing continued career growth and progression, especially in the early years of parenting. Although I am fortunate to have a husband who believes in gender equity in domestic and caregiving responsibilities, I struggled in finding work-life integration.

After I had my first child, I felt tremendous pressure to get "up to speed" and to "prove my worth" relative to my peers and colleagues. It was an exhausting as well as physically and emotionally challenging period of my life and career. Since I had limited time in the office, I struggled in getting everything I had intended to get done each week, and found myself working late nights and on weekends to meet the demands of my projects. In addition, spending so much time on my career led to feelings of  "mommy guilt" and social anxiety with my disconnect from friends who didn't have any children.

Although I successfully pushed hard to attain my credentials and professional licensure, I suffered from feelings of anxiety, stress, and self-doubt associated with my performance and professional competence. These feelings were perpetuated by the fact that my project assignments were considerably less technically challenging than the ones that my male counterparts received. This didn't change until I sought out and requested to be put on specific projects that were aligned with my own development goals.

I was able to alleviate some effects of "imposter syndrome" by forming a huge cohort, seeking support, counsel, encouragement, and accountability in each other's career aspirations. I have also mentored other women who have experienced similar difficulties in their careers. Through continued professional development, and learning to swallow my pride by asking for help from peers and managers, I have been able to reduce even more self-doubt and anxiety, and attain better work-life balance. Finding advocates who champion and appreciate the talents and skills you possess, and contribute to the organization and communities to which you belong is important not only to your well-being, but also to the success of your career.

What piece of advice would you give to your 10-year-old self? 
Tse: Here are a few pieces of advice I would offer to my 10-year-old self: 

  1. No matter how educated, talented, rich, or cool you think you are, treat everyone with respect. Be kind, courteous, and honest with your peers and with yourself, and show integrity and accountability for your actions.

  2. Surround yourself with people who share your values, and celebrate your differences.

  3. Be courageous. Be bold. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Keep an open mind and don’t be quick to judge. 

  4. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t let other people put limits on you or to try to define who you are. In every one of your circles, find a mentor and an advocate you can rely on to give you encouragement during your successes AND through your struggles.

  5. Take time to see things from a bird’s eye view. Consider the impact you may have on others around you in your community. 

What changes would you like to see for the future of the industry? 
Tse: We need to work together to improve the public's image of our role in society. Start by training all managers and aspiring leaders to become better communicators and stand their ground during fee negotiations with clients. We play a critical role in public safety, which affects the world’s economy and economic infrastructure. 

As a profession that is becoming increasingly diverse, and one in which there is a shortage of talent to meet the needs of a flourishing economy, it is important to recognize our shortcomings and to prioritize efforts to improve engagement and retention. I envision a future where all firm leaders in design and construction are truly committed to building a workplace culture of teamwork, growth, and collaboration: where all professionals are given the resources and mentorship to thrive in their careers and to pursue their professional aspirations. 

Regular check-ins with each employee to discuss satisfaction with their daily tasks and responsibilities, and alignment with career goals are important for everyone in the office, and advancement and sustainability of the profession. It’s better to have (than to avoid) that difficult conversation.

Anything else you'd like to mention?
Tse: I'm excited to be speaking at this year's NASCC: The Steel Conference, April 22-24, in Atlanta at the Students Connecting with Industry Sessions


Tse currently serves on the committee for Structural Engineering Engagement and Equity (SE3), where their mission is to attract and retain the best talent into the profession, and to ensure all structural engineers have a clear pathway to success in their careers. Learn more about SE3 at SEAONC and NCSEA

For more information about Women in Construction Week, visit