Tell us about how you chose structural engineering and became chartered?
Growing up, I had a strong interest in movies and wanted to pursue a career in directing films. However, the cultural pressure for a more “conventional” degree coupled with the 1990s construction boom in Lebanon challenged me to enter the male-dominated profession of engineering, particularly civil engineering.
Graduating in 2000, the construction industry took a downward turn, and I faced a challenging job market and started my - admittedly short-lived - career as a salesperson for construction materials in Lebanon. However, my true passion lay in structural engineering, and when I secured a position at a consultancy firm, I eagerly dived into the field.
As my career progressed, I took on increasingly senior roles and despite these advancements, my love for concept design and finding unconventional structural solutions to complex buildings and challenging site conditions remained. The realisation that structural engineering had such a direct and large impact on people and the planet further solidified my commitment to the profession.
In 2008, I made a significant move to Singapore, where many companies highly valued chartership status. It was during this time that my line manager suggested I embark on the chartership journey.
What shaped your development?
A couple of small but significant experiences early on in my career instilled tough lessons in my early development. During my third-year internship in civil engineering, I confronted my fear of heights while climbing to upper floors, elevated scaffolds, and passageways. However, I kept it to myself, worried that my manager might see it as a weakness, especially as a young female engineer. It was a mistake, and I realised the importance of open communication and advocating for oneself. This experience inspired me to support and empower young engineers, particularly women, in sharing and overcoming career obstacles.
After graduating, I faced difficulty finding a job in the sluggish construction sector of the early 2000s and took up a role in construction materials sales, which was far from my desired career path. However, this experience taught me the value of perseverance and adaptability, while providing first-hand insights into the construction industry and boosting my self-confidence.
Later in my career, working in multinational firms across Dubai and Singapore played a pivotal role in shaping my development. The exposure to diverse projects and teams in the Middle East, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, South East Asia and parts of Europe, expanded my knowledge and honed my skills in structural engineering. It taught me to think creatively, consider local culture, construction practices and materials, and adapt solutions to maximize the benefit and suit the local context.
What have been your career highlights so far?
I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve as the Technical Excellence Leader for Mott MacDonald Middle East. In this role, my focus is on safeguarding quality and driving digital innovation in the construction industry, specifically within the region. It has been a privilege to contribute to the improvement of working and living conditions, particularly through sustainable low-carbon solutions.
Moreover, I have actively participated in mentoring and supporting aspiring engineers by contributing to the preparation for the Chartered Membership exams. This commitment aligns with my dedication to nurturing talent and providing guidance to those entering the field.
Additionally, I have been fortunate enough to deliver talks and offer mentorship to young professionals, especially in structural engineering. The opportunity to share my experiences and knowledge with others has been incredibly fulfilling.
Ultimately, the true highlights of my career come from the moments where I have been able to make a positive impact, whether it be through finding innovative solutions to challenges or empowering and inspiring others in their professional journeys. These experiences continue to fuel my passion for engineering.
What role models have had a positive influence on you and your career?
Firstly, my former line manager played a pivotal role by advising me to embark on my chartership journey and offering unwavering support throughout the process. One of my colleagues who also mentored and coached me made a significant contribution, particularly in avoiding procrastination. Their guidance and encouragement have been instrumental in shaping my professional growth. Working in line with my values and being my authentic self in my leadership style is something I continuously strive for and owe its successful application to the coaches at my company Emerging Leaders Programme.
Secondly, the young female engineers I have encountered and supported along my career have been a constant source of inspiration. Witnessing their resilience and ability to overcome obstacles has motivated me to break through barriers of my own and continually develop professionally and personally.
Have you experienced any type of bias in your working career and if so, how were you able to handle it?
I have not personally experienced any conscious bias in my working career. That being said, during my journey to achieve chartership, I faced challenges balancing my full-time job, three children, and exam preparation. I had to split my study time into smaller periods at night, despite the difficulties and doubts. My children were supportive and even accompanied me on the day of the exam, motivating me to succeed and set a positive example for them.
Now, with my fourth child, finding free time is even more challenging. However, I believe that every small contribution counts. As an active engineer and a mother of four, I have experienced the difficulties of relocating and resuming work after childbirth. Accepting temporary setbacks, reshuffling priorities, and receiving support from my colleagues, helped me quickly get back on track.
Progressing at a comfortable pace that suits our lifestyle and family commitments is more important than achieving career goals quickly, and this is a message I am passionate about delivering to support my female co-workers.
What three things would help structural engineering become truly inclusive?
To make structural engineering truly inclusive, three key factors are crucial:
Diversity Promotion: Encouraging and supporting diversity by actively recruiting individuals from diverse backgrounds, including women and underrepresented groups, fosters innovation and brings diverse perspectives into decision-making processes.
Mentorship and Support: Establishing mentorship programs and support networks helps aspiring engineers overcome challenges and build successful careers. Tailored mentorship programs for women and underrepresented groups address barriers and aid in navigating professional journeys.
Wellbeing Support: Supporting well-being and encouraging open communication about it is crucial for creating a supportive and inclusive environment. Providing resources for well-being, and promoting a culture where individuals feel comfortable speaking about their concerns and difficulties can foster a sense of belonging and create a supportive community within the field of structural engineering.