Tell us about how you chose structural engineering and became chartered?
As a child I always enjoyed making things and activities that involved tasks that produced an end result. I had never thought of being an engineer growing up but in hindsight, the mix of creativity, problem solving and project delivery is part of my nature.
My careers advisor in secondary school suggested engineering. There was a scholarship aimed at encouraging more women to go into engineering. After some research, I decided the idea of creating buildings could be fun. I won the scholarship and this started my journey.
Winning a scholarship aimed at increasing the number of women in the engineering profession engrained in me, from the very beginning, the importance of being a woman in engineering and the value of diversity. This was at a time when there were not many women studying and working in the profession.
I studied engineering in Australia and went on to study Interdisciplinary Design in the UK.
Early in my career I saw engineering as a way to explore the world and chartership as a way to be recognised as competent. With more experience and after becoming chartered in both Australia and the UK, I realised that these qualifications offer much more than this.
Through Chartership I gained a lot of confidence in my own technical abilities. In doing so, I started to see a broader perspective beyond the important technical role of the engineer. I also saw the possibilities for becoming more involved in the positive impact buildings can have on people’s lives.
What shaped your development?
People, places and spaces have shaped my development both personally and professionally.
I grew up around inspiring people, many of whom were passionate about what they did either in their work, hobby or family life. I learnt from a young age that loving and practicing what you do are very important.
Mentors I have had in my professional life were equally as dedicated to their craft and generous enough to share their knowledge.
Travel has also shaped my development. I’m inspired by cities all around the world and especially the way we most often recognise them through their buildings
I love to work on the types of buildings that bring people together and create or support community, from large scale public buildings to small residential units. Small, intimate spaces I think require much closer attention from the structural engineer than larger buildings in some regard. This is because the size and intrusion of a structure is so much closer and integrated into the space.
The impact a space can have on the way a person feels and whether they are safe or not is so important. Seeing first-hand how a building can change a life and make it better in different places around the world has shaped who I am.
What role models have had a positive influence on you and your career?
Family, teachers and sports coaches who encouraged me to work hard. Even at a young age, they pushed me beyond my comfort zone. Most importantly I was supported if I failed and helped to move forward and to learn from it.
This gave me the confidence to try new things such as studying engineering or starting a new engineering practice at a relatively early stage in my career.
Throughout my career I have had strong mentors and positive allies. Neither had formal titles or roles. At each stage of my career I can name a specific person who was my teacher in some way.
What have been your career highlights so far?
Establishing a structural engineering practice in London is a highlight. I’m proud of the people we brought together to create a great place to work. We have delivered some wonderful projects that are excellent examples of structural engineering.
This experience led to the other highlight of my career which has been shifting my focus towards bringing engineering excellence to all parts of society.
Have you experienced any type of bias in your working career and if so, how were you able to handle it?
I’ve experienced bias in my career as a women in a predominantly male profession. With hindsight and experience, I can see many instances that were unfair. At the time I didn’t think too much of many of them because they were subtle or systemic. Others were more overt.
It is encouraging to see change but there is more to be done. I don’t believe any kind of bias is ok. Ever. As a senior woman in the industry I feel a responsibility to educate myself and gain greater awareness of bias experienced in the workplace in its different forms.
I advocate for change and to work to support an equitable future for everyone from a position of seniority.
When dealing with bias, I’ve tried to turn ‘being different’ to my advantage.
Being different meant I stood out from the crowd and people often remembered me which can be good when developing business relationships. However, I also had to work on my resilience and focused goals to overcome the times when bias felt unchangeable and unfair.
Rather than get caught up in it, I would remind myself of my focus and passion and continue to work towards achieving my own goals, and joining others to create change.
Strong ties to others is also key. Everyone needs a good support network and allies who will advocate for your success.
What three things would help structural engineering become truly inclusive?
Change towards a more equal, inclusive and diverse society is a complex issue with many different and historic reasons behind it. In the context of engineering, I’m encouraged by the action towards an inclusive Institution that IStructE have been implementing in recent years. I’m especially fond of the ‘This is Engineering’ day at RAEng.
Without action at the top of organisations we know it is challenging to be impactful. At the other end, we need a diverse pipeline of future engineers.
We need to continue to communicate and celebrate the role of the engineer and their contribution to society in all its diverse forms.