Marked annually on March 8th, International Women’s Day is a global day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural achievements of women.
To coincide with IWD, we wanted to celebrate the achievements of our female technical and structural engineers. But in doing so, we found out that we are an outlier.
With the theme of IWD 2021 being #ChooseToChallenge, we sat down with three of our engineers – Noor Haddad, Magly Terrone and Jess Thatcher – to talk about their careers to date and, crucially, what can be done to address the gender imbalance in engineering and construction – two traditionally male-dominated sectors.
Engineering is a broad term. What drew you to structural engineering in particular?
Noor Haddad: I’ve always loved buildings, their aesthetics and how they are designed. From architecture, I fell into structural engineering. I started off doing architecture at university. But by the time I graduated, we were in the middle of the credit crunch, so I had to change my plans slightly. I got into CAD and mixed that with the architecture side of things and here I am.
Just one in five (21%) of those starting an engineering or technology course are female(3). How was your experience of sixth form and university?
Jessica Thatcher: I feel that at school, girls aren’t encouraged [to do engineering] as much. I didn’t have access to any courses that did engineering. Then a few years after I finished my GCSEs, engineering became available. But only one girl took it. It wasn’t promoted enough.
Magly Terrone: Studying in Italy, I had a different experience. On my course, half were male and half were female; there was a big community of us girls. But it was different at university. A lot of women chose architectural engineering over other types of engineering. But I think that’s changing.
Around 12% of engineers in the UK identifying as female. Why do you think that is and what can be done to change that?
MT: In my experience and speaking with other women, the interviewers [and decision makers] tend to be men. There are way more men in the industry and, perhaps, there’s bias in who they chose. And, who works on the building sites? It’s pretty much male. It’s quite difficult for women to be included – women aren’t seen as ‘strong’ enough for construction.
JT: I’ve found that as well. On sites, people are a lot more protective of me but in a patronising way. And there weren’t female facilities. Many places just don’t accommodate women.
NH: I find I don’t get taken seriously as others and it goes as far back as studying at university when I was one of five girls on a course of around a hundred people. When people call me, you can hear the shock [in their voice] as if they’re saying ‘Oh, sorry, I thought you’d be male’. And you can tell that they then try to dumb things down a bit and ask if things make sense.
Sometimes I’ve had it when if I have to say something won’t work a certain way, people ask to speak to a male colleague or a supervisor. People push back against you easier, I find…asking if I’m sure or that ‘I sound a bit young’.
People don’t hide the fact that they’re surprised that you know things and it’s patronising. You don’t applaud a fish for swimming. Why are you so surprised I’m doing my job?
It’s these stereotypes that everyone has to fight.
For those interested in finding out more about your role at ACS, can you describe your job and what an average day looks like?
NH: I’m a Design Manager, so I’m doing a couple of design reviews and the rest of the time I’m checking other team members’ work and qualifying tasks to make sure we’ve got all the information we need. If not, I’ll speak to customers and get it. I’ll ensure every task has got everything associated with it. For example, I’ll highlight balconies that could cause issues with coordination or special corners and curves. Eventually, when we can, I’ll be going out to meet clients.
What’s been the most rewarding thing about working in an engineering capacity?
MT: In Italy, there’s a project that I managed by myself. I did all the design, all the calculation, all the drawings. I’d say that’s my biggest achievement – designing and testing a whole building on my own.
If you could work on one project, what would it be?
MT: One of my dreams is working on a non-residential, multi-story building and factoring in things like seismic activity. I think that would be really challenging – and rewarding. That’s something I’d love to work on.
Finally, what advice would you give to somebody who was thinking of following in your footsteps and working in structural engineering?
JT: Just go for it [and] don’t let anything put you off. Start with an apprenticeship because employers recognise the qualifications and skills you gain. And if you go to university after, you have a bit more context to what you’re studying and can understand it a lot more as you’ve worked in the industry.
Article originally published on 8th March 2021