Darlene K. Gee, HNTB's Northern California district leader, was recently honored with the Ethel S. Birchland Lifetime Achievement Award for her 35-year-plus commitment to the transportation industry, including the advancement of female leadership. The American Road and Transportation Builders Association presented Gee with the award at the ARTBA National Conference in Tucson, Arizona.

Throughout her career, Gee has been involved in many high-profile Bay Area transportation projects, serving as principal and project manager for clients that include the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, Caltrans, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, the City of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District.

She has served as the principal-in-charge for multiple seismic retrofit design and construction support contracts on the Golden Gate Bridge since 1992, and played a similar role for other major projects including the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge seismic retrofit and the BART Earthquake Safety Program.

Gee told me that she is currently overseeing the management of "many exciting Bay Area transportation projects." These include  portions of the San Francisco Central Subway, the preliminary design and environmental clearance of the California High Speed Rail project between San Francisco and Merced, and the planned I-580/Richmond San Rafael Bridge managed lanes and bicycle access.  

Since becoming Northern California district leader four years ago, Gee has helped elevate the firm’s profile and driven its business growth locally. She now oversees the operations of HNTB’s four regional offices – San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Walnut Creek.

“Darlene has been a force for positive change in diversity in our industry as well as having demonstrated leadership and expertise in the transportation market throughout her career,” said Art Hadnett, HNTB West Division president in a recent news release.

In addition to her work at HNTB, Gee has worked passionately to strengthen and diversify the transportation industry. Currently, she is the Bay Area chapter president of the Women’s Transportation Seminar, an organization dedicated to the advancement of women in transportation. She has also devoted considerable time and energy to supporting WTS’ youth mentorship program, Transportation YOU, which encourages young women to consider a career in transportation.  

"My advice to young women today is to take advantage of the many opportunities to do informational interviews with members of the profession," says Gee. "Learn about what active career professionals are really doing and take a look at the opportunities in both the public and private sectors."

She says that if after these learning conversations a young woman finds that she is still interested, then she should "seek out women in the profession and find some mentorship and guidance about being a women professional in a field still heavily dominated by men."

The interest in engineering came to Gee when she was in high school, trying to decide what to do in regards to college. "I attended a major outreach program by the University of Illinois trying to attract women into engineering," say Gee. "It was an interesting program and opened my eyes to aspects of civil engineering that I didn’t know about. I didn’t have any other strong leanings toward alternative career topics so I decided to give engineering a try. 

"Once in the engineering program, I found the coursework and topics to be interesting and challenging enough to continue," she says. "I was always attracted to the transportation and environmental areas and once I got my first job I started focusing on transportation."

Gee has also served for many years in leadership roles with ASCE, encouraging the greater participation and advancement of women in engineering.

ARTBA is comprised of more than over 6,500 public- and private-sector members in the transportation infrastructure sector. The Ethel S. Birchland Lifetime Achievement Award, named after a former ARTBA executive director, is awarded to women leaders who demonstrate long-standing dedication to the industry. Gee was one of two recipients of the award this year.