In the UK, women are hugely underrepresented in many engineering disciplines, accounting for only 7% of the national engineering workforce. Despite this fact, I have never been overtly conscious of being a woman in a predominantly male industry. In fact, I only think about gender when someone outside the industry mentions it.
The sector is only a man’s world because, statistically, more men work in the industry than women. But, the nature of consultancy work in particular is no more male than female.
The idea that our industry ought to focus on hiring women just because of their gender is something I find problematic and, for me, that’s the most important issue I want to highlight on National Women in Engineering Day. As an associate geotechnical engineer, I want to know that my career progression reflects my true aptitudes and achievements, as well as my failings. I would hate to think that I have had an unfair advantage or been offered opportunities just because of my gender.
Based on my experiences in the consultancy world, I personally don’t think inequality is a problem for our industry, in terms of gender or other factors. I love the broad variety of projects the job provides, and the diverse team in which I work. My job is made all the more enjoyable by the cross-section of cultures and backgrounds within the office.
Over recent years, my role has changed from undertaking geotechnical analysis to managing a design team. I am also responsible for design coordination with other disciplines, project management and the delivery of design packages.
I am currently working on the Brent Cross Cricklewood Regeneration, coordinating a team of about 15 geotechnical engineers to deliver the project’s detailed design. The complex scheme involves alterations to major roads, including the M1, North Circular and A41 junction around Brent Cross Shopping Centre. We are also designing a 1.2km diversion of the River Brent and about 10 new bridges over the diverted route. A very different project I am also working on is for the Ethiopian Roads Authority, designing remedial works to 120 sections of road across the country that regularly suffer from instability.
When you become a manager, it can be a difficult job to do part time. That’s why flexible working arrangements are a great thing. However, I still don’t see this as another equality issue. I believe this is the nature of the job and applies equally to men and women.
My opinion regarding inequality in the industry hasn’t wavered since starting my career in 1998. In that time, I have seen the proportions of women in geotechnics gradually increase. I’ve never felt that my gender has held me back from fulfilling my potential, and I am passionate about promoting engineering as a great career choice for both men and women. It’s a rewarding profession for all.
Sarah d’Agostino is an associate geotechnical engineer with Geo Services which is part of Aecom