Please tell us about your background…
I went to an all-girls school from the age of 11 to 18 and then studied Civil Engineering BEng at Swansea University. It was very odd changing from being surrounded by all girls to working in an all-male environment! I got into engineering because I was good in math and science. There are no engineers in my family but I always enjoyed STEM subjects. I was lucky to meet a very competent career advisor at school who told me that, with my skills, I could be a doctor or a civil engineer. I looked into civil engineering and decided this was the discipline I wanted to explore.
What has been your career journey so far?
After completing my degree, I wanted a change – of university, town and course. My mother knew a lecturer at Cranfield University who advised me to continue with civil engineering but in a more specific field. I decided on an MSc in Coastal Engineering at Plymouth. After completing my MSc, I worked as a Graduate Engineer in a small, consulting rail office. I was in a team of 10 and I learnt a lot about the terminology used in rail and past and present construction practices. I then briefly worked in a large, consulting rail office before being offered an amazing opportunity to work in Qatar on a highways contract. Despite the change in sectors, I learnt a great deal of transferable skills, including how to cope in a completely different physical and social environment. It certainly was a learning curve! I now work for Network Rail within the Infrastructure Design Group, Buildings and Civils team. I earned my CEng MICE about a year ago.
What in rail are you passionate about?
I am passionate about showing girls what I do and how interesting engineering is. I want to spark an interest in this discipline and encourage them to continue studying maths and science to AS / A level. They may not necessarily decide to become an engineer but these subjects are a good foundation to build the core skills required in the work place.
What aspects of the job do you find the most challenging and rewarding?
Redundancy was the most challenging. I have been made redundant twice now in a 5 year career. I did not expect it and it really shook me. When it happened the first time, I thought “why is this happening to me, I’m young, why so early on in my career?”. It taught me to be prepared and always have a plan B. I took the plunge and moved to Qatar. It was initially meant to be a secondment of 6 months, but I ended up being there 2.5 years! Qatar is a melting pot of culture. It has a population of about 10% Qataris and 90% foreign workers with different skill sets and expertise. It was challenging as I had to adapt to a different culture, language, way of working and climate.
What has been your biggest success to date and what contributed to that success?
I have two! Getting my CEng MICE. I’ve been working towards it since I left University, so it was 5 years of self-study, sweat, tears and report writing. It’s been my goal for so long it was easy to keep focus and persevere. I was luckily under the mentorship of some very committed engineers who aided me on my journey. My other big success was when I was in Qatar, working in a team of about 60 people, 25% were women but only 2 female engineers. Towards the end of my stay, contractors were coming to me directly and I heard the feedback “she knows her stuff” which gave me great satisfaction. Working in Qatar also taught me to look at things in a different way, from the point of view of a different culture. That was very enriching and will always stay with me.
What do you like the most about your job?
Every day is different and my job is all about problem solving which I enjoy. I often try to figure out the problems as well as the solutions with my clients. As a Network Rail employee, I’m in a very privileged position of working for the owner and infrastructure manager of the UK network. There is substantial knowledge held within Network Rail and people are happy to share and teach those who are willing to learn, which I always am.
Where do you see yourself in 5 and 10 years’ time?
I see myself as Project Manager or Programme Manager but my 5-year career plan would be subject to change if the right role came along. I would also like to work internationally again. With my career choice I would be able to work anywhere in the world and that is really exciting.
What do you think the rail industry could improve to support and attract more women into the sector?
We need male allies. Gender equality is not purely a “women’s issue” but is everyone’s responsibility, requiring contribution and input from all genders. Rail needs to promote its female engineers at schools, STEM events and careers fairs.
What would be your advice to young women entering the industry?
Persevere. I’ve grown into the engineer I am today through the experiences I’ve been through, good and bad. Also, I don’t have a set career plan. I will allow for deviations if the right opportunity comes along. Working in Qatar was not planed, but it was one of the best decisions of my career. Also, “feel the fear and do it anyway”, “fake it until you make it”, go for your dreams and what excites you and if you need a boost of confidence, find something to make you feel better.
How have you used your influence to drive change for gender equality in the rail industry?
When I worked in Qatar, I was the driving force for gender equality by simply being there. Often, I would attend meetings and be the only woman. I would make sure that I did what I said I would, made sure my voice was heard and soon built my reputation as a reliable female engineer.
What are your interests outside of rail?
I just bought a ground floor apartment, so I’m enjoying making a home for myself by painting, decorating and tiling everything in sight! I’m also getting into gardening and growing my own herbs and vegetables which helps with my love of cooking and all things food. I also love travelling. Since coming back from the Middle East, I have enjoyed getting to know the UK again.
Interviewed August 2017