Tell us a little bit about yourself…

I have worked in projects for around 4 years. I started as a building surveyor after completing my degree in Building Construction, doing traditional civil project managing work. The recession hit and work became scarce and it was at that point I moved into rail. I joined Carillion in payroll and resource roles for 6-9 months to get a foot in the door before moving into project management. My first project was working in the track team as an assistant project manager on the Reading Area Station Redevelopment which was the first part of the Crossrail programme. I spent 2 years there and undertook weekend and blockade engineering works before moving onto the West Ealing Sidings project (an HS2 enabling project). This is a multi-discipline project which has given me fantastic but steep learning opportunities as I was involved in both design and build stages. It was great working on a staged completion project to get it over the line on time. I’ve recently moved into the Crossrail stations team and we are in the midst of tendering for work.

What in rail are you passionate about?

I love the possession-driven environment and timescales-driven work. The railway industry is very technical – it is all about knowing the standards. There are standards for every discipline and also for construction and maintenance! I don’t need to be an engineer but I do need a great appreciation of what these standards are. For me, my biggest success has been meeting every challenge I have been faced with and never succumbing to the intense time pressures or failing to solve problems that arise throughout the life of a project. It is because of this that I have been able to work on projects in Reading, Oxford and West Ealing, as well as my new role on the Crossrail project. Gaining experience in a variety of locations has been a vital factor in ensuring my ability to achieve success and equally my successes have afforded me the opportunity to work on several projects within my first few years with Carillion.

What aspects of the job do you find the most challenging and rewarding?

I like the different types of people and the variety of the work.  It isn’t just about sitting in meetings, I get to go out on site, manage suppliers, manage staff, promoting and developing them.  It is really rewarding! I am still studying.  Last year I completed an HNC in Rail Engineering and I am part way through my Masters in Rail Systems Engineering and Integration. Self-improvement is really important to me and rail is constantly evolving industry. There are always new standards coming out that need to be understood, primarily for safety reasons but also to help improve the way we work, introducing value engineering where possible. To be successful in an operational role in the rail industry you need to be up for the vocational challenge!

What has been your colleagues’ response to you being a winner of the 20 rising stars?

Carillion has SNOWE (Support Network for Operational Women in Engineering) whose main aim is to support and mentor the Women in Carillion’s rail business. All of us, including my Director, Wayne Brigden, have been tracking the progress of the nomination.  SNOWE shared the good news of my win within Carillion and within hours I had received emails from various people across the business, passing on their congratulations!

What do you think the rail industry could improve to support and attract more women within the rail industry?

Construction was never promoted to me as a child nor presented as an option at school (I went to a girls’ school).  Construction and rail are not solely industries with jobs involving manual labour.  There are lots of other roles available, such as resource managers, design, and commercial roles.  They need to be more accessible to all and advertised within the local community. A photo of a man in his orange gear isn’t representative of the industry as a whole, there’s much more to it than that. GCSE or A Levels is too late to begin informing girls about this industry. It needs to be when they are around 7-9 years old or even earlier.  It is critical to promote STEM at this age. I recently went to 2 girls’ schools with other female engineers and the level of knowledge about the industry and engineering in both schools were poles apart. We need to promote not just apprenticeships, but also that rail is not all physically demanding work taking place outside!

How does rail compare to the construction industry where you started in terms of diversity?

Gender equality is an ongoing issue and I continue to see examples of it. Often I attend construction meetings where I am the only woman in a room.  I certainly don’t believe I am treated any differently, but at the beginning of my career, I noticed a raised eyebrow from an individual I had never met before.  This attitude may also be because, among contractors, there are fewer women in operational roles but this doesn’t seem to be the case with Network Rail. It may also be because construction is perceived to require a ‘macho’ attitude, due to the aggressive work environment and individuals may feel that if a woman in present they can’t be themselves in terms of language or behaviour. Regardless of the reasons why this is, I just ensure that I work to the best of my ability. Positive steps are being taken to resolve this, including the promotion of health and wellbeing, with a particular focus on de-stigmatising mental health.

Do you have a role model?

Phil Edwards.  Phil was the Project Manager at the Reading station project.  He has great leadership skills, great technical knowledge, he is respected by everyone, has great rapport with them all and in turn, everyone wants to work for him.  Phil always believed in my ability and encouraged and supported the further educational training I have been undertaking whilst working at Carillion.  I’d like to be able to emulate his achievements in the future by successfully delivering on projects.

What are your interests outside of rail?

Outside of work and studying, I don’t have that much time left!  I do enjoy travelling though and I try to have a couple of long haul holidays each year.  In September I am off to Japan and will be climbing Mount Fuji.  It’ll be back to studying when I return though!

Interviewed August 2017