Women in engineering: Seizing the opportunity to lead

 

For me, events like International Women in Engineering Day (IWED) are crucial for celebrating the diversity of approach and skillsets that women bring to engineering.

Not just in engineering roles of course. Women across the industry bring a range of skills through their roles.

In the past, there were times I felt uncomfortable by the concept of a day specifically targeted at women, when we should be focusing on equality more broadly. However, a glance at recent stats shows that women make up less than one in eight of the engineering workforce (EngineeringUK State of Engineering 2017 report).

With the engineering skills shortage reaching a critical point, it’s vital that more young women are encouraged to consider careers in our industry. That means championing science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) from school ages.

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However the industry also needs to improve how it raises awareness of opportunities for professional roles in emerging areas including sustainability management, data analytics, stakeholders and marketing, strategic planning, or for example my field of innovation.

As a female leader managing a team, I focus on being a mentor to those I work with to support their ongoing professional development. I do this by being available, approachable and ultimately a role model for senior female leadership.

I find my job very rewarding – the important work we deliver influences the world around us. My role is also brilliantly varied. I get to meet and work alongside a talented and inspiring people from a variety of backgrounds undertaking different roles across our integrated industry delivery. From other engineers and construction professionals to architects and historians, as well as the infrastructure owners and the public. All this results in great career satisfaction.

At present I am the Innovation and Continuous Improvement lead across AECOM's portfolio of major highways schemes.

I am working on several highways major projects for clients such as Highways England, including high profile schemes such as A303 Stonehenge, M42 J6 Birmingham and A428 Black Cat. I lead Lean implementation, integrated workshop delivery and creative problem solving for a range of major infrastructure clients.

I am passionate about having a position on safety as I believe industry leaders we must champion everyday safety.

My commitment to Health and Safety for 2017 was to lead the introduction of a ‘wellness tracker’ for project teams to support each other and identify when there are wellbeing concerns. This has since been adopted by client teams as an example of best practice and was a finalist in the Highways England Health, Safety and Wellbeing Awards 2018.

I take part in as many initiatives as I can to raise awareness of women’s diverse roles in our engineering industry. I’ve recently been offered a place at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Transport Summer Reception at the House of Commons in relation to IWED, and have also been invited to give the key note at the ACE Wales Progress conference.

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I believe that we should never stop learning. From formal qualifications to learning from delivery in collaboration, through to everyday feedback on performance, I see education and training as ongoing commitments that improve our industry. I champion this with the people I mentor.

For me, the big question now is how to encourage more young women into the profession so they too can experience a similarly rewarding career path. One of the most important steps is to capture the imagination of our industry’s future female engineers from an early age, ideally while they are still at school.

It’s crucial that today’s female engineers visit schools and colleges to introduce the profession to young minds. We need a wave of inspired young women to enter the profession and pave the way for future generations to do the same.

I led Engineers Without Borders sessions for The University of Sheffield Faculty of Engineering. I also designed and delivered (to c.300 school children across Derbyshire and South Yorkshire) a ‘Let’s go on a Journey’ interactive activity day to promote engineering, leading a team of AECOM graduates as role models for our industry’s diversity of people and careers.

On a practical level, my advice to young women is to choose subjects at school that give them flexibility to study engineering at college or university, and to never let stereotypes hold them back. Young women shouldn’t be put off if college or university isn’t for them. Apprenticeships are an exciting entry route into the profession, particularly in highways.

Here at AECOM, we plan to take on over 90 apprentices and higher apprentices in the UK by the end of 2018, with 55 working in the transport sector. The opportunities are there – now is the time to grasp them.

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