It sounds outrageous. It sounds patronizing. Above all, it just sounds wrong.
After graduating with a degree in geology, April Snyder was excited to begin a career in what she initially thought would be environmental consulting. Snyder had developed such an interest in the field that she’d changed majors from secondary education in earth sciences to geology.
What she hadn’t planned, however, was eighteen months of prospective interviews where male interviewers would ask to see Snyder’s fingernails, skeptical of the young geologist’s hands (well-groomed because of the office job Snyder was holding down until she was able to find a position in her field) and unconvinced a woman was up to the challenge of the work. What’s more, they actually made her lift the equipment she would be using to prove she was able to. “None of the men interviewing for that job had to lift the equipment,” Snyder points out.
Despite her early trials and tribulations, Snyder eventually found the perfect fit at RJ Lee Group, where she’s spent her entire career. The company’s culture has allowed her to find that ever-challenging work/life balance for women in the workplace. It’s perhaps all the more fitting that the now principal investigator and director of concrete materials would also wind up being elected the first female president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Concrete Institute in its fifty-five-year history.
Snyder says that relationships and the way that they are built are responsible not just for her own personal growth, but in the way RJ Lee Group effectively uses all of its available capabilities to solve difficult problems for clients, who are most often calling because they need guidance. “We have a wide range of analytical capabilities in the company,” Snyder says. “What I have found essential is to learn what each of those tools does—equipment or the knowledge of our experts—so we’re able to leverage those to address client concerns.”
That often means working to combine the expertise of many different individuals from across the company. “Team building is really key,” Snyder says. “Everyone here plays a part, and you have to interact in an appropriate way, granting the respect that each person deserves.” Snyder says it’s this approach that has allowed her teams to effectively get results.
One of Snyder’s more high-profile cases involved a litigation failure investigation of a recently placed concrete runway for an international airport. “The project required assembling a team of experts from within the company and outside,” Snyder says. “It really covered a range of expertise, including airport design and construction engineering as well as materials.”
Finding the appropriate team and right combination of expertise and analytical testing to identify a root cause for the concrete degradation while providing litigious support to the customer was challenging. What’s more, the client had already worked with previous organizations that had proven ineffective. Once April and her team were called in, the timing was urgent. “We were on a very tight schedule and had equipment and personnel constraints, but we were very successful in helping get our client the results they needed in the time they needed them.”
“I always tell my kids the number one thing they can do is take advantage of the opportunities when they come to you.”
Snyder has stayed close to experts both within and outside the company. She is active on international technical committees that develop standard procedures and guidelines for the concrete industry. She joined the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Concrete Institute (ACI) in 2012, was elected vice president in 2017, then president in 2018. During her tenure, the ACI initiated a regional Excellence in Concrete award program. The Pittsburgh chapter winner wound up earning second place in the ACI international awards. Snyder’s team also developed and rolled out new educational and certification programs.
While Snyder still has the disheartening stories of her past interviews to remember, she says she’s happy to report that the number of women in engineering and materials is growing rapidly. And she has good advice for those who may hope to find themselves in her position someday.
“Building relationships and really being straightforward with communication has been key to making my way through my career,” Snyder says. “I always tell my kids the number one thing they can do is take advantage of the opportunities when they come to you.”
It was the RJ Lee Group job that appeared on Snyder’s radar after eighteen months of job searching that would help define her next decades, and she’s glad she grabbed it without having to fuss over how clean her nails were.
Lending a Helping Hand
April Snyder loves to take advantage of volunteer opportunities inside and outside RJ Lee Group. She is proud of the company’s “Group Troop,” which picks a different organization every year for which to hold multiple fundraisers.
On a more personal level, if Snyder’s children are involved in an activity, she’s probably volunteering to help with it. “My kids are in sports, band, and musical activities, and I always get involved to support those programs the best way I can.”