Inspiring women in structural engineering: Najwa Jawahar
Date published

19 March 2021

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Inspiring women in structural engineering: Najwa Jawahar

Date published
Date published

19 March 2021



Najwa Jawahar talks to us about some of the people and experiences that have shaped her career. She shares her thoughts on bias and inclusivity within our profession.

Attend this year's Young engineers conference to hear from other young members on what you can do to shape the design brief of the future.

Tell us about how you chose structural engineering and became chartered?

During my A Levels, I sat down with my physics teacher to explore my potential career choices. Knowing that I enjoyed mathematics and physics, he listed several career options for me. To my surprise, they were all different types of engineering. As I wasn’t sure at that stage about what I wanted to do in life, I used a process of elimination. I discarded all careers that I didn’t see myself enjoying and narrowed it down to structural engineering.

Another reason for my attraction to structural engineering was that I had seen projects completed by my uncles who were structural engineers in Pakistan. That left an impression on me as a child. After studying at the University of Leeds, I relocated to London. I joined WSP as a graduate engineer where I worked on several exciting projects in the residential and commercial sectors.

I found a technical mentor within the company to help me meet my objectives and review my progress. Throughout the process, I made sure I was actively involved in extracurricular activities within the industry and society to develop my experience.

For my chartership application, I chose to follow a retrospective route and only submitted my application when I was confident that I was ready. This was after four and a half years of experience. During my interview and exam preparation, I allocated three hour slots every morning before work and three hour slots after work without fail. I did this because I believe practice is the key to success. I passed my chartership exam and attained my membership in 2017.

What shaped your development?

There are three secret ingredients to my development and success to date. One, I am not afraid to ask any questions. Even today, when I am not sure about something, I just ask someone who would know the answer instead of making assumptions.

Second, I have a strong support network around me, including my friends, family, colleagues, mentors and mentees. When I am losing motivation, these people make sure I remember to focus on my goals.

Finally, I am always looking for new things to learn or try. I have a growth mindset which helps me to continuously grow and refresh my knowledge. I am a strong advocate of continuous learning. I practise it myself and encourage and enable younger members in my team to learn and grow.

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

I look at different people for different qualities. This means I have a lot of role models. For example, when it comes to engineering, I look at my seniors within the business and in the industry and aspire to become like them.

When it comes to inspiring the next generation, I learn from leading women such as Roma Agrawal, Rachel Skinner, Yewande Akinola and Hayaatun Sillem. They are encouraging many women like myself to achieve more and more. When it comes to personal development, I follow Tony Robbins, Robert Kiyosaki, and Warren Buffett.

What have been your career highlights so far?

The most prominent highlight of my career is receiving my chartership status through the Institution of Structural Engineers. I gave it my best and felt proud when I received my results.

I have been fortunate to be recognised for some of my achievements to date. My recent accomplishments include:
  • Receiving the Best Young Woman Engineer at the European Women in Construction and Engineering Awards 2017
  • Highly commended at the C&E Emerging Professional of the Year 2018
  • Property Professional of the Year 2019 at Manchester Young Talent Awards
  • Named on the Northern Power Women Future List 2019
  • Construction Excellence Generation for Change (G4C) Future Leader Yorkshire and Humber 2020

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

Having come from a South Asian background, there have been incidents where I have been overlooked for an opportunity purely based on unspoken expectations and stereotypes. I absolutely hated the feeling of being left out.

Because of that, I am no longer afraid to challenge a situation where I face bias or even unconscious bias. When I experienced unconscious bias in my working career, I raised the issue with a simple question and resolved it by including a third person in discussions.

My advice to those who cannot challenge is to find someone in your support network who can challenge and ask for their help.

What three things would help structural engineering become truly inclusive?

The most significant barrier to an inclusive structural engineering profession is a misperception of what a structural engineer looks like. Despite substantial efforts over the last decade, there is a lack of understanding of structural engineering.

It’s a mixture of office-based design and site-based supervision, which needs a brain more than anything else. We need to educate teachers and parents and change the image of an engineer in the eyes of the public.

Second, understand the barriers individuals face. The industry has made significant progress in identifying challenges women face working in a male-dominated profession. We need to keep tackling them.

Flexible working, transparency in the gender pay gap, transition from maternal leave to parental leave address part of the problem. But how about helping individuals identify self-imposed barriers such as:
  • Lack of confidence to speak up and showcase their achievements
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
This applies to both gender equality and racial equality.

Finally, stop treating inclusiveness as a good to have and start considering it necessary for a genuinely inclusive and successful business. Several studies have proved that an inclusive board representing both genders and people of all backgrounds performs significantly better than the one that doesn’t.


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