BAME Role Models 2020: Tony Parasram
Date published

29 October 2020

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BAME Role Models 2020: Tony Parasram

Date published

29 October 2020

In this piece Tony Parasram tells us about his journey to IStructE Fellowship. He also gives his thoughts on how structural engineering can become more inclusive.

Explain how you became a Chartered structural engineer

My late father was the formative influence in me becoming an engineer. Against the odds of his childhood he studied at night school to qualify as both a structural engineer and quantity surveyor.

It’s a familiar story of accompanying him to sites and growing up around engineers, draughtmen and drawings. A child of the 70’s, I grew up in Trinidad, moving to the UK in 1979. At the library, I was the kid who took out books on how things worked or were put together. Having said that, when I took things apart, I always seemed to have spare parts after re-assembly.

At university I was fascinated by how using numbers, calculations and a sketch we could ‘design’ something that fulfilled a purpose. It was motivating to think that it could then become real. My elective at uni was advanced structural analysis. This was my journey toward structural engineering. I joined IStructE as a Graduate Member, then a Member and I’m now a Fellow.

What shaped your development?

Tenacity and a dissatisfaction shaped my development. Dissatisfaction at just being told something hadn’t worked and tenacity to find out why.  I feel this about anything in my life, not just things related to structural engineering.  Quite often we read about folks who are energised when told something can’t be done. I’m one of those.

What role models have had a positive influence on you and your career?

Primarily my father. My values are his values only updated slightly. There are also those who mentored me during my career either knowingly or unknowingly. Sometimes we are mentored unknowingly if we just listen.

An example is listening to how a technical director answered the phone in an open plan office. His manner intentionally made any conversation less formal which I’m sure helped with his client relationships. I’ve seen boom and bust in the construction industry and I’ve been fortunate to work with superb engineers throughout my career to date. Always supportive, they guided me constructively.

What has been your career highlight(s) so far?

This is a difficult one as I think there are a number of highlights. One highlight is having the opportunity to tell my dad I was FICE, FIStructE. All the cool projects, positions and promotions converge to this point. Some may point to a particular project, but for me it was this.

Dad was also around when I set up my consultancy Free4m. Another highlight was Free4m winning the Heritage Award and shortlisted in Sustainability category at the Structural Awards. To see the Free4m team enjoy the moment was amazing. They deserved it.

Have you experienced any type of bias in your working career and if so, how were you able to handle it?

I’ve been very fortunate in that I think in the main I haven’t experienced bias during my career. I did at one point, early on, think it was stalling and used the company annual review to say as much. To their credit it was acted on and I was assigned to a project which went on to win several industry awards.

What three things would help structural engineering become truly inclusive for those in the BAME community?

Engineering, and in particular structural engineering, is viewed rightly or wrongly as elitist. Its concepts are highbrow and scholarly. Its language is particular and precise. The difficulty is making this subject accessible without a reduction in the high standards. I think three things that would help are:
  • Valuing communication skills as highly as technical ability in lecturers
  • Showcasing BAME successes with emphasis on career rewards other than financial ones. Quite often financial success appears the primary comparator with other professions
  • Liaising with universities and creating opportunities for one-off lectures on particular subjects. These should be delivered by visiting engineers who are strong on narration and communication. A bit like the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures
This blog is part of a series written by leading Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) engineers. They share how they got into engineering, their career highlights, and their thoughts on how racial parity in engineering can be achieved.


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