It has been understood for some time that STEM fields are typically dominated by men. In fact, it has been widely documented that women make up almost 50% of the worldwide labor market, yet only 28% of women work in STEM fields versus 72% of men. Out of the 296,000 engineers in Canada, only 13% are women, and Cindy Chong of Richmond Hill in the Greater Toronto Area is one of them.
Encouraged by her father, Cindy Chong became interested in the civil engineering field at a young age. She enjoyed looking at structures and imagining how they were constructed. Because her father was a civil engineer, she was able to see some of his work firsthand. She quickly became inspired.
In 2013, Cindy Chong obtained her degree in civil engineering from the University of Toronto. She held several different contract positions, lending her skills to the construction of residential condominiums throughout the Greater Toronto Area.
Following the birth of her son, Cindy Chong has taken to working primarily from home, participating in projects and sharing her expertise as needed. She conducts daily research of new civil engineering projects around the world to become inspired.
Cindy Chong lives in Richmond Hill with her family. Aside from her career, she enjoys spending time with her son, reading, cooking, and hiking.
1. Why did you decide to get into the civil engineering industry?
I was mostly inspired by my father, who was a civil engineer. When I was a young girl, I used to flip through the work he’d bring home with him every night. I’d ask him questions about it and he would be more than happy to sit with me for hours talking about a particular project he would be working on. He encouraged me, but he also told me that I would have to work hard if I wanted to be an engineer because he said many people may not take me seriously because I’m a woman in an industry that is mostly made up of men. I wanted to prove all those people wrong, so I did.
2. What is it like to work in a male-dominated field?
To be perfectly honest, it was intimidating at first. Because I was warned early on, I was kind of prepared, but it was definitely still a challenge. I worked hard to be taken seriously, but I almost think that at the beginning I may have been too serious. I was all business, so it was hard to communicate with my co-workers and connect with clients at first. Since then, I’ve come a long way. I’m a lot more confident than I was when I was when I was starting out. I feel that I’m able to hold my own and it almost takes gender out of the equation entirely.
3. What keeps you motivated?
I want to be able to give my son and future children the best the best life that I can. First and foremost, that is my daily motivation. But I am also proud to be a woman working in a STEM field as a civil engineer. I get invited to give talks at schools about my work. So, it motivates me to know that I may be helping to influence young women to become engineers too.
4. How do you balance work and life?
I make sure that I “clock-out” by 6:30 p.m. every night the latest unless I have any projects that demand my constant attention. I shut off my email and even sometimes turn off my phone entirely, so I’m not tempted to check it. Sometimes I’ll even give my phone to my husband to hide it so that I won’t look at it until the morning.
I also make time for the important things. I make sure that once a week my husband and I just sit and talk for an evening without any television. It really helps us connect and it helps to bounce ideas off each other. I read to my son every night even though he’s too young to understand any of the story or anything just yet. I call my parents once a week at least to check up on them. I go on coffee dates with my friends during the week. I find that connecting with others helps you find and achieve that balance.
6. What is your biggest accomplishment?
Going against the odds and not giving up when times got hard. University was challenging for me and in so many ways, I felt out of my league, especially as I saw many of my female peers drop out of the engineering program. I was worried that my father was right and that I wouldn’t be taken seriously. But I worked hard to get where I am, so I’m proud of those collective efforts.
7. If you could live anywhere in the world where would you live?
I do enjoy living in the Toronto area because there is so much urban development. I see new projects every day and the demand for housing and such continues to grow in the area. So, from a professional standpoint it’s great. I think I’d want to live in New York if I could live anywhere. It’s just another busy metropolitan area that allows for so many opportunities. Many old buildings need to be torn down and the properties need to be repurposed and I would love to help out on those kinds of projects.
8. What is your favorite thing to do when you are not working?
When I’m not working, I enjoy reading. I think too many people these days are obsessed with and addicted to devices. They forget the simple pleasures of just picking up a book and reading it cover to cover. I typically read historical fiction and professional development books because I learn something new that way.
9. What does your future look like?
On a personal level, I plan to have more children. I have always wanted to have a big family, so I am looking forward to making that a reality. I am also excited about some engineering projects coming to the area. They’re planning for the subway to expand to the Richmond Hill area so I think it would be really neat to be involved with that in some way!