In a time when the Scientific American newsletter reports that 45% of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) leave their jobs because of feeling underpaid and unrepresented, Carol A. Spratley, Project Manager for the Korea Program Relocation Office defies this statistic by virtue of her 41 years as an employee of the U S. Army Corps of Engineers. Twenty-one of those years were spent in her most recent of two tours to South Korea in service to the Far East District.
After sharing that daunting statistic with Mrs. Spratley she shook her head in acknowledgment as if I wasn’t telling her anything new. Then, when asked if she could put her finger on a reason this statistic rang so true, her response was immediate.
“A lot of people don’t last because even nowadays, you’re the only female on the site and depending on where you are, the culture of the job site can contribute to if you stay in the field and do that job because a lot of times it doesn’t matter how much experience you have. As soon as you get there, they act like you have no experience.”
However, Mrs. Spratley recounted that working in the FED in 1999 afforded her a certain level of instant respect for her work that wasn’t automatically afforded her in the states. “I can say that my contractors here in the Far East District, they were all very nice, accepting, and very eager to work with me. That was the good thing about coming to Korea and it really started with our resident engineer back then, Woody Barger. He called the contractors in and told them they would have female construction representatives, female engineers. They work for FED, you will respect them and we will not have issues. He set the standard for us. He set the bar.”
As a part of the 28% of present-day women working in the science and engineering workforce, Spratley has done her part to rid the industry of the stereotype that females demonstrate less confidence in STEM subjects.
“I think each person has to look at what they’re trying to accomplish and how you need to make it happen. I began in clerical and back then GS-7 was as high as I could go and I’d accomplished that but I wanted to go into construction so I took a downgrade. I took a GS-5 to get to become a construction inspector. I went up in the ranks, 5, 6, then 7, and then when I came to Korea, they hired me as a GS-9 and some people laugh at me about that but sometimes you have to take a step down to go forward. For me to break that glass ceiling, I had to come to Korea and I made it to GS-11, and then I had to leave again to pass that.
Sometimes you just have to wait. It used to take a long time to get promoted and I’m seeing that Millenials don’t always understand what some of us have gone through when some of them start out their careers in these higher-level GS positions. You have to take one day at a time. You have to be prepared and know that you may sometimes have to do twice as much to get half as much credit and even though some people try to tell us it’s not true, we all know that it is.”
My gold star is the fact that I made it. After I made GS-12, I thought that would probably be the end. I thought I was probably going to retire then but when I got the opportunity to come back to Korea and get a promotion, that was it really. FED has played a big part in my career in the fact that in order for me to break through the ceiling in the beginning I had to come to Korea. Then I left here, worked, and the opportunity came for me to come back again and I went even higher and that’s been it.
I tried to tell Mrs. Spratley just how amazing her story is but she wouldn’t let me. She says, “no, I’m just blessed.”
This Carolyn Spratley feature is a part of the FED Women’s Equality Day Tribute.
As an additional part of Women’s Equality Day, USACE EEO Manager, Steve Brown will be hosting a FED Women’s Equality Day Discussion featuring a diverse panel of dynamic women who work within the STEM field on August 26th at 10:30 am in the USACE conference room.
The national proclamation to name August 26th, Women’s Equality Day was approved as a joint resolution in 1973 and commemorates the passing of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. However, it also calls our attention to women’s continuing efforts to achieve full equality.
While written in 1973, much of the original resolution unfortunately still rings true for women in our society. Please read the full resolution below.
Joint Resolution of Congress, 1971 Designating August 26 of each year as Women’s Equality Day
WHEREAS, the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States;
and WHEREAS, the women of the United States have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex;
and WHEREAS, the women of the United States have designated August 26, the anniversary date of the certification of the Nineteenth Amendment, as symbol of the continued fight for equal rights;
and WHEREAS, the women of United States are to be commended and supported in their organizations and activities,
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that August 26th of each year is designated as Women’s Equality Day, and the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote, and that day in 1970, on which a nationwide demonstration for women’s rights took place.