Interviews with inspiring women this international women in engineering day

Wednesday the 23rd June 2021 marks International Women in Engineering Day and this year we are celebrating the thriving women in the industry. In this article we have quotes from Lucy Smith, a Senior project manager at Morgan Sindall who is a respected leader in her career. As well as, we go over some great advice from the women who been guests on ‘Inside Data Centre Podcast’ by our very own Andy Davis.  

|| How did you get into the construction Industry and were there any key moments that led you there?  

I went to a career’s fair at school, not really knowing what I wanted to do and my Dad who was a Lecturer in the Built Environment suggested I go and ‘see the Civil Engineering stall’ as I enjoyed Maths and Sciences. I spoke to the guys on the stall and was hooked from there on in. When I was in my 5th year at senior school my dad (through his contacts) arranged for me to do some work experience with Wimpey Construction on an extension to North Manchester General Hospital. I spent some time in the office and some time on site with the engineer. My Dad also arranged for me to do some work experience with Taylor Woodrow in the design office. I loved the work experience on site even though as a female I was somewhat of an anomaly! This confirmed that I wanted to pursue a career in Civil Engineering. Once I completed my degree, a great opportunity came up to do a PhD in Civil Engineering which was sponsored by Miller Civil Engineering (now Morgan Sindall). I then started life on site with Miller Civil Engineering as a graduate Civil Engineer in the water industry. I’ve worked my way up from there from site engineer to Framework Delivery Manager for Morgan Sindall within the water industry. 18 months ago, I decided I wanted a new challenge and I’m now working in the nuclear industry (still for Morgan Sindall). 

|| What are three things you like most about your role? 

I know it’s a cliché but everyday is different and there is always a complex, challenging problem to solve. It is certainly never boring! I also love the fact that on a day to day basis you meet so many different people; one day I can be speaking to an operative digging an excavation, the next day a farmer to gain access to their land, the next day someone from the supply chain negotiating a contract or even someone from the Regulators. You need to adopt a different way of communicating with each stakeholder to achieve an outcome that suits all parties. I think most importantly of all, as a Civil Engineer I can say that I am improving the world we live in. When I go into schools to talk about what I do, I always say that we wouldn’t have the lives we have if it wasn’t for the work that Civil Engineers do. From a job satisfaction point of view, not everybody can turn to their friends and family and say that, nor can they show them something that they’ve worked on and say ‘I built that!’. This obviously has a lot more impact on the prestigious projects such as structures, bridges and buildings than a Sewage Treatment Works which is where I’ve spent the majority of my career! 

|| What challenges do women face working in construction and in your opinion how can the industry change these?  

I’m in a fortunate position where I’ve never really had a negative experience as a female working in the construction industry. I’ve been fortunate to work for a company that are very supportive and I’ve never really had to work away from home for long periods of time which I have been grateful for, especially as I have a son who is now 13 years old. When I first came back to work after having him, diversity and inclusion were almost unheard of and as such, there was no consideration for the provisions needed for feeding mothers. I am thankful to say that time has moved on and diversity and inclusion is now starting to become embedded into businesses. One of my frustrations at the minute is that within the industry there are talks of fulfilling quotas for numbers of females at a senior manager/ director level. For me I want to know that I’ve got a position on my own merit, not just to fulfil a quota. It is disappointing that throughout my 20 year career, I have seen little increase in the numbers of female engineers working on site. I have however noticed an increase in numbers in design/ engineering from a consultancy point of view but not contracting. I believe this is down to perception and teachers not understanding what opportunities there are in construction and in particular in my area, what a Civil Engineer actually is. We have to educate the education professionals as to what opportunities and career paths there are within the construction industry. It is essential that we change the perception of the construction industry and I believe that this starts in primary schools. 

|| What would your one piece of advice be for other women who want to go into the construction industry? 

It’s a fantastic industry to be in; be fearless throughout your career, believe in yourself and grab every opportunity that you can. 

Alongside Lucy Smith’s great insight, there have also been some amazing guests on Andy Davis’ ‘Inside Data Centres podcast’, with Theresa O’Brien, Amber Villegas-Williamson, and Jen Reininger all agreeing that more awareness needs to be made for young girls to enter industries like data centres and to take on engineering and technical roles. Theresa O’Brien is a Global Talent Resourcing Leader within CBRE Data Centre Solutions and her insight into how the industry has evolved to be more diverse goes down to even the simple act of making job descriptions gender neutral. Changing the language that is communicating to candidates to avoid exclusion and create a more even playing field for gender, ethnicity, and more. Theresa knows just how much engineering, particularly in the data centres, can offer “there’s so much growth and so much opportunity, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to work in the sector.”  

As Amber Villegas-Williamson says “it’s about telling people we’re here and making them feel welcome.” She encourages candidates, students, anyone to reach out to those already working in technical roles and ask questions, with one piece of advice being “Have a conversation. Find those people to speak to, search LinkedIn or platforms such as ‘I’m an engineer get me out of here’ and connect to each other to find inspiration and knowledge. The only way to learn is to ask and waiting to the industry to come to you will not get you there. “ 

Jen Reininger makes similar points as she advices finding a great mentor as we start to see a lot more growth and expansion globally for the data centre sector and subsequently engineering and technical roles. During her career, Jen has seen diversity changing in companies as they work towards attracting more women and focus on moving away from the old ways. She has first hand seen what good can be achieved with a diverse team, as women bring different traits into teams! There is a shift in ideas and ways of thinking, allowing teams to grow, which is extremely important to keep a business alive and moving with the times.  

Collectively, it can be agreed that awareness and education about what opportunities are available in these careers is one of the biggest and most important steps to take. Showing young girls what is out there and the support available to mentor and guide people so that everyone feels they have an equal opportunity to be a part of these rewarding roles. Diverse teams provide new qualities and opens up creativity and progression. Women in engineering is a solution to many challenges faced by the industry, and we can make those changes start today.  

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