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Building a Space for Women in Engineering

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Mallory Atkinson

Malory Atkinson
Cofounder | Shear Structural

Malory Atkinson, BC 08, cofounder of Shear Structural, Georgia’s only all female owned and managed structural engineering firm, lives by a surprisingly simple strategy: Trust the universe.

“I always feel when I want to change something in my life or do something, I start putting it out there,” says Atkinson. As Shear’s managing partner, she oversees business operations for the firm, which works on commercial projects across the Southeast. “When I was thinking about starting this firm, I started putting it out there. That’s how I got my business partners. I always feel if you keep moving forward—you don’t necessarily have to choose the path, but keep taking one step at a time—you’ll eventually get where you want to go.”

Her father was an entrepreneur. Early on, Atkinson caught what she says is “the bug,” the itch to hold the reins. After earning an MBA, she worked for a tech startup. “I loved the fast pace, throwing something to the wind to see what sticks, meeting with different people, and problem-solving,” she says.

From the beginning, this Roswell, Georgia, native wanted her firm to make a strong impact in its industry, a motive reflected in its name. In engineering parlance, the word “Shear” refers to a structural force.

Shear has helped design schools, arts centers, and office buildings and mixed-use structures. The project Atkinson found most satisfying was the pro-bono @Promise Youth Center in a low-income neighborhood. Working with the Atlanta Police Foundation, Shear reimagined an abandoned warehouse whose roof was caving in. Trees were growing inside the building, yet her team turned it into a showplace state-of-the-art learning and community center.

“Our mission is to be a positive force for change in the built environment,” says Atkinson. “We want to leave positive impacts on communities. So, when we get to do projects like @Promise, that’s extremely rewarding.”

Giving back is central to her life. She sits on boards of two nonprofits—SPIKE Studio, which mentors students of color and low-income students to encourage them to seek careers in engineering and architecture, and ULI (Urban Land Institute) Atlanta, a community real estate organization. Her good deeds also include helping her alma mater. She cofounded the school’s first-ever lifetime endowment fellowship for a woman studying structural engineering.

Atkinson is grateful Tech “pushed and challenged” her and prepared her to be a successful entrepreneur. A decisive moment came when Thom Keel, a professor of construction, told her class, “When you’re in construction on site every day wearing your boots and hard hat, you have to love it every day.”

That moment forced a shift in her career path. She thought to herself, ‘No, I don’t like putting on steel-toed boots every day. Sometimes, but not every day.’

After graduation, she chose to work for a multidisciplinary engineering firm to learn how it ran, won work, and hired people. “That’s why I do what I do now. I run an engineering company that does great work with great people to better shape the community.”

By: George Spencer
Photography: Ben Rollins