International Women in Engineering Day 2019
Women in engineering are generally underrepresented. In 2018, it was reported that only 12% of the engineering workforce is female. With a pressing need to diversify the engineering workforce, it is important that we aim to inspire and encourage women to choose a career in engineering.
To mark International Women in Engineering Day, we asked some of our brilliant women from various disciplines to share their career journeys and experiences from difficulties in recruitment and juggling work and personal priorities to STEM outreach.
Sarah Cook, Director of People
Recruiting engineers, in general, is difficult and finding female ones even more so. We are closing the gap with our younger employees especially at apprenticeship and graduate level, but it will take time for these recruits to progress through the levels, and the industry just can’t create experienced female engineers out of nowhere.
In recent months, we have achieved 35% of female engineers recruited as the overall number of female engineers which contributes to creating a more attractive place for other female recruits. However, in order to achieve gender parity, we continue to improve our STEM efforts by reaching out to girls at primary school age and planning continuous input via STEM activity all the way through secondary education and into higher education. Role models are important, as is continuously innovating our approaches to STEM activities. This is why PBA, now part of Stantec, has an ongoing commitment to engage with local communities to open a world of opportunities in engineering careers to students from a young age.
Rachel Kirkwood, Assistant Transport Planner and STEM Coordinator
Research suggests that by the age of 15, only 25% of girls would even consider pursuing a career in engineering, compared to 65% of boys. Despite evidence to the contrary, many young girls still think that boys are better at maths and science and therefore better suited to jobs in these fields. Our STEM outreach and engagement work aim to tackle this issue with the goal of creating a more diverse workforce, reducing inequality and filling the engineering skills gap.
STEM outreach provides insight into the diverse range of careers available and tries to change perceptions of who an engineer is or what they might look like. If girls do not actually understand what a career in engineering looks like (and just how varied that can be), they will never be able to make an informed decision on whether it is right for them. In order to truly create the most effective future workforce, it is also crucial that we highlight the full range of skills that are required for an engineering team. This goes beyond maths and science to creativity, communication, planning and more.
Even one positive experience of a STEM-related activity can have a huge impact on a child and may spark the inspiration that is required to pursue a career in the industry. That is why it is so important that we continue to go out into schools and the wider community to showcase the exciting opportunities available and provide inspirational role models in the form of our STEM ambassadors.
Hayley Scoffham, Associate Ecologist
I’ve always had an interest in nature and a desire to protect it. As a child, I used to ‘rescue’ beetles which had fallen into our sand pit, and my sister and I used to make ‘houses’ for ladybirds. I was struck by the plight of elephants and the ivory trade and developed a deep aspiration to go to Africa. My interests have guided my education, which culminated in a Masters in Sustainable Environmental Management. When I realised it was possible to build a career in ecological consultancy, I knew this was the path I wanted to follow. I volunteered on conservation projects and I am pleased to say this included a trip to Africa where I undertook surveys of everything from elephants to butterflies! I started my career in ecological consultancy as a graduate and over these 13 years, I have worked my way up to be an Associate Ecologist.
I love developing schemes which build-in ecological considerations from the start, and which strive to truly deliver sustainable development. Life never stands still for long, and I am faced with new challenges now that I have my three wonderful children (twins: 18 months, and my eldest: 3). It sometimes feels like I am two people – my work-self, and a mummy. Juggling the two means I get the best of both worlds, worlds and requires some monumental time management skills (and caution to avoid arriving at work with porridge in my hair) which I am still in the process of mastering! I have a new-found respect for working mums (and dads), and a real appreciation of our incredible ecology team who support each other to provide a fantastic service for our clients.
Natalie Maletras, Senior Associate - Environment
Back at university during my first work placement, I was inspired by my boss to become a Chartered Waste Manager. It’s not every girl’s dream but I have never looked back. Somehow, I’ve always struggled a little with the ‘Women in Waste’ movement. For instance, how would you feel if a ‘Men in Waste’ forum was thrown around? Nevertheless, a movement that helps promote recognition of the excellent work women have been up to, has got to be a good thing, hasn’t it?
Reflecting on my career, I can see that what has guided me the most are people. What inspired me isn’t whether they are men or women, it is their passion and enthusiasm for what they do. I recently took my daughter and her entire class to an Energy from Waste plant in Oxfordshire. In the morning she asked me why I was so excited. By the end of the day, she became fascinated by the whole process and didn’t stop talking about the bunker and crane!
In the busy weeks of conference calls and meetings, we sometimes forget the real reason why we do what we do. Sometimes the best therapy is to get back to your roots, be out on site, and don a hard hat!
Janice Smith, Senior Associate - Structures
I lead the Scotland structural engineering team at PBA. My role involves leading the team and the management and design of a variety of building projects, including houses, schools, commercial, university, research and industrial buildings. I am constantly learning new skills and dealing with new challenges. I am currently learning about the progress being made in industry with building information modelling and visualisation to see how this can be applied and how it can benefit my team and clients. Working on unique complex buildings like the V&A museum in Dundee for BAM Construction challenge me technically. I am continually developing my skills to motivate and mentor others to encourage them to follow their aspirations and chosen career paths. I am passionate about promoting engineering as a career for everyone. Being an engineer involves overcoming constant and varying challenges, which ensures that the work is not boring or routine.
Producing the design is only one aspect of what we do, working with the wider team to come up with a coordinated solution and problem-solving are key to the successful delivery of projects. Working in construction gives the benefit of producing something tangible. I get a sense of achievement when I see the buildings that I have designed. In my view, this is unparallel by many other professions. My ambitions are to keep challenging myself, stay true to my strengths and maintain the passion and enjoyment in what I do as I progress in my career.
Heather Grigson, Business Development Coordinator
I work as a Business Development Coordinator in PBA’s Ashford office. I really enjoy how my day is so diverse, one moment I could be in the office arranging meetings, preparing reports for various Boards, and then the next day, I will be out networking, travelling to meet with a new contact or to attend some function or other.
As part of my job, I attend numerous conferences and events and I notice it’s predominantly male-dominated at these events. I do believe that this is getting better as younger women are indeed thinking of entering our industry. There’re still some improvements that need to be made particularly with the gender pay gap. However, I still feel that doing business as a woman in our industry is much easier than when I first started working. I don't see me being a woman as a problem and don't feel I am treated any different than if I were a man. Also, with my wide experience and knowledge of working in the industry for several years, I have become more confident in dealing with any difficult situations that I may face. Ultimately, what makes me tick is mainly being responsible for maintaining good relationships with current clients while simultaneously building new client relationships.