Tell us about how you chose structural engineering and became chartered?
My journey into structural engineering was initially more accident than design. I was studying for my A levels with no real idea of what I wanted to do afterwards.
I had to choose a degree course to study and a family friend, not my school careers adviser, suggested that engineering would suit me. So, I took his advice and applied. I read Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester and quickly realised that I wanted to work with structures.
I started work with Arup and followed their route to become chartered as a civil engineer. This was a steppingstone to my goal of becoming a Chartered Structural Engineer.
What shaped your development?
For my first few years with Arup I worked with an amazing engineer. His patience and practical knowledge made me want to emulate his way of working both as a mentor and as a well-grounded engineer.
After redundancy in 1991 I moved to a smaller company where, over the years, I became increasingly involved with working on old and historic buildings. I moved again in 2003 to my current employer, Thomasons, where I am now a Technical Director.
Working at Thomasons allowed me to continue my work with historic buildings. I built the expertise in our Manchester office and achieved accreditation through CARE as a Conservation Accredited Engineer. Now, I am in the privileged position of being able to not only work in an area that I love but to also mentor others in this field.
I have been fortunate that I have enjoyed my work and my employers have made it possible for me to follow and develop the aspects of work that have interested me most.
I am also delighted that my particular interest in saving and reusing buildings has moved from being considered, by some, as unexciting and perhaps mundane. It is now being recognised as good practice in terms of designing responsibly in relation to the current climate emergency in which we find ourselves.
What role models have had a positive influence on you and your career?
I did not have any female role models during the most formative years of my career. However, I am very grateful that my parents brought me up to see no barriers due to being female.
I have always considered myself to be an engineer first and foremost. I have never believed that being a female engineer should hinder my career or progress.
I remember my first and perhaps most significant work role model, Colin Wood, at Arup with great fondness. He gave me much to aspire to in terms of his engineering knowledge and, most importantly, his openness and willingness to share his knowledge and enthusiasm and to mentor and encourage young engineers.
Colin was also a keen supporter of IStructE and it was his influence and encouragement that steered me towards becoming involved with my local regional group in Lancashire and Cheshire.
What have been your career highlights so far?
The obvious career highlights include becoming chartered then later successfully transferring to being a Fellow of this Institution. I was then elected as Vice President and I’m currently serving as Senior Vice President.
In terms of my day job there are many highlights which relate to successful completion of projects. I feel a real satisfaction when rescuing buildings that others have written off. I consider myself so fortunate to be able to crawl around parts of historic structures where most people don’t have access; to see the craftsmanship of years gone by and to work with that.
Have you experienced any type of bias in your working career and if so, how were you able to handle it?
I have experienced very little bias during my career. I believe that this has been largely thanks to the positive attitudes of my employers. When there has been any hint of bias I have just got on with the work and not given the perpetrator any opportunity to ignore or bypass me.
What would help structural engineering become truly inclusive?
Whilst there is still much room for improvement in our industry, a truly inclusive attitude is needed from all involved. This includes clients and the general attitude towards and perceptions of the construction industry.
This change of attitude must start at home and at school. These environments need to have inclusivity at their hearts.
This is where equality and inclusivity are first learned. If a firm foundation is built here, it will pervade society as well as our industry.