Tell us about how you chose structural engineering?
My journey to structural engineering was quite straightforward. I always knew I loved science and understanding how things worked, so, after GCSEs I went to a local 6th form college and studied the A Levels that I knew I enjoyed.
Did I know at that point that I’d be an Engineer? No, I just knew that if I followed my passion, I’d find the right path for me. I began doing some research to see what sparked my intrigue, and that’s when I found Civil and Structural Engineering. I then went to University to study a Masters in Civil Engineering. I am currently working towards becoming a Chartered Engineer with the IStructE.
What shaped your development?
I think a big factor in my development was pushing myself out of my comfort zone. This meant finding the confidence to lead on design elements and tackling difficult phone calls and project meetings when I thought it was easier for somebody else to lead.
I have always been open and honest and want to learn new things. I never stop asking questions.
Finally, I have always had a great support system and role models during my career development. These have been a big encouragement to me.
What role models have had a positive influence on you and your career?
My teachers encouraged me to go to a nursery for work experience even though I was one of the few girls in my year that was passionate about science and maths.
However, I was lucky enough to have my own role model who was an Engineer, my mum. My mum has been a constant inspiration to me. She is so confident in who she is and she always has been.
Challenging stereotypes was part of everyday life for me growing up and that is certainly a lesson that has stayed with me. My mum took a part time bricklaying course on an evening. If you went into our garage at home it was full of drills, circular saws and a welder which were all hers, not my dad’s!
During University and my career, I have been very lucky to have some amazing Senior Engineers at Curtins supporting me. They have always encouraged me, and I am very grateful for the time they spent with me. They have answered my questions, opened my eyes to lots of areas of structural engineering and helped me grow in my career.
What have been your career highlights so far?
I have been working for just over four years now and I am lucky to have had some great highlights already. The very first project that I completed was in my hometown of Grimsby. I was so proud that something I had designed would be in my hometown for my family and friends to see.
A personal highlight for me is speaking about structural engineering at a future of STEM summit. I did the same at the Curtins Inspiring Women’s Day Event at Everton Football Club. On both occasions I got to share my journey into this industry with secondary school-age girls and give them an insight into my passion.
I also created the Curtins' ‘Build a Skyscraper Challenge' that I delivered to local schools in Leeds. On the back of this I was shortlisted for UK Construction Role Model 2019.
Have you experienced any type of bias in your working career and if so, how were you able to handle it?
Being a woman and walking into a meeting or site visit with eight or more men, you feel exposed. You are different and stand out. This is an exposure which most of those men will have probably never felt before.
You feel like you must prove yourself, even if no one in that room thinks any different of you because you’re a woman. Unfortunately, I have experienced negative and inappropriate comments on site or even when I just walk in the street carrying my hard hat.
But the few bad comments are far outweighed by the positive response and the respect I get from my colleagues and the design teams I work with. I’ll never tire of telling people I am an engineer.
What three things would help structural engineering become truly inclusive?
I will always use my role and platforms to speak out for inclusivity in structural engineering and the wider industry. It is important that those involved in making decisions on inclusivity are themselves diverse. Sadly, this is not what we currently see reflected in decision making positions in our industry.
The three things I think would help structural engineering work towards becoming ‘truly’ inclusive would be:
- When inclusivity isn’t a tick box exercise in management or business plans. It needs to be a core belief and driver among all colleagues and managers. It needs to be reflected in business culture and business policies
- When we aren’t identified as a ‘type’ of Engineer for example ‘Female Engineer’. We are all Engineers
- Recognising that everyone’s career journey isn’t linear and creating paths that reflect that. For example, accommodating for the impact of poor mental health on the role of a structural engineer, or being an engineer with a disability or undertaking a chartership journey whilst looking after young kids
See Niamh speak at the Young Engineers Conference