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Women in the Industry - Hailey Tatum

March 19, 2020

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8 and Women's History Month, SWANA is highlighting women in the industry who have shown their dedication and hard work. In this male-dominated industry, each woman has had her own unique experience.

Hailey TatumHailey Tatum is a Solid Waste Engineer in Training with HDR in Denver, Colorado. Tatum has been in the solid waste industry since graduating with a degree in civil engineering from Gonzaga University. Her experience includes everything from landfill design and transfer station feasibility studies to construction inspection and groundwater monitoring. In her spare time, Tatum is the Corporate Chair of HDR’s Young Professionals Group, fostering professional development among nearly 65 local YPGs across the world. She is also the SWANA Regional YP Representative for Region 2. Tatum and her husband love to explore the Colorado mountains with their two dogs and recent addition, a camper van.

We talked to Tatum to get her perspective on her time in the industry.

How long have you been in the industry?

Hailey Tatum (HT): I have been in the industry 5.5 years, including the 5 years since graduating college and an internship that extended into my senior year.

How did you get into the industry?

HT: Three instrumental engineers have educated, inspired, and mentored me into the solid waste industry. While at Gonzaga University, Dr. Sue Neizgoda taught the fundamentals of engineering in solving real-world problems and instilled passion to advance my environmental career. My introduction to solid waste occurred my senior year of college where I worked with John Cleary at the Washington State Department of Ecology in the Waste to Resources division. John showed me the ‘world of waste’ by touring Washington’s landfills, MRFs, and compost facilities, as well as guiding me through a research and emission monitoring study at a Central Washington PCC landfill. John was a true leader in the industry and continues to inspire me to develop as an engineer in this field. My first ‘real job’ was in Seattle’s HDR office, working for Olivia Williams in the solid waste sector. She mentored me on how to engage with clients through her incredible skills in project management and helped facilitate my growth as a leader. These remarkable engineers, and people, have lead me to the always changing, rewarding, and glamorous career of garbage!

What is it like being a woman in this industry?

HT: Being a woman in the waste industry comes with big rewards, as well as its own set of challenges. I, along with other women in the industry, bring a unique perspective on projects, especially in terms of how the design might affect the client and the operators. I enjoy looking for lessons learned while in the field on how to deliver the most inclusive solutions within the design.

What challenges did you have to overcome?

HT: As a woman you are taught early on to always be aware of your surroundings, and that is no different at construction sites. Especially in the waste industry, these sites can be in remote locations where it’s not uncommon to be the only woman. I’ve been taught to always have a plan, and stay aware of my location and make sure someone knows where I am at all times on-site. I’ve also learned that confidence is key, especially when performing construction quality assurance, and to be more assertive in my role to ensure the project is constructed to the design requirements.

What progress have you seen being made in the industry?

HT: During my time in the industry, I see more women occupying field services positions. For me, stepping away from the desk and getting my boots dirty, provides me with confidence to execute design back in the office. It’s encouraging to see more women taking advantage of these types of positions. I’ve also noticed that more women are attending industry conferences on behalf of their companies, another sign that women in leadership roles are on the rise in the waste industry.

What progress do you hope to see for the future?

HT: That women continue to see a space for themselves in the waste industry in the future. It’s an inclusive industry where important progress is being made on initiatives that are supported by men and women alike. I think the more women we have serving in mentorship roles for other women the industry, the more opportunities we have to make an impact.

Do you consider yourself a pioneer in the industry? If not, what do you think it takes to be a pioneer?

HT: I am surrounded by women teammates whom I admire, and I hope to follow in their footsteps and be considered a pioneer one day. A pioneer in the industry is someone who is not afraid to call out a challenge and make a change. I greatly respect those people who aren’t afraid to speak up and do what’s right for their community, regardless of pressures.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

HT: I am most proud of getting through engineering school and passing my Engineer in Training exam. Five years into my career, I am proud that I have found a firm that exceeds my expectations for culture, safety, and quality of design. Next on the list is my Professional Engineering license!

Who is your role model?

HT: My role model is a professional skier and environmental activist, Caroline Gleich. Caroline is a woman pioneer in the ski industry, and I admire her because she was able to combine her career with her passion for the environment. She pushes for policy change as well as shreds on the slopes. She inspires me to always look for areas where my passions and my strengths collide.

What advice do you have for other women entering a male-dominated industry?

HT: Find other women who empower you. Throughout college and into the early stages of my career, I have worked with women who excel in their engineering roles by accepting their unique perspective rather than combating them, motivating me to do the same.

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