Civil engineering is not a career you fall into by accident, writes Diane Bourne of Eric Wright. We don’t tend to follow a family member into a role specialising in major drainage infrastructure or highways improvements as you might do with professions such as acting, law or teaching.
A career in civil engineering is a conscious choice. Your decision is based upon passion and a deep interest in the subject.
I had always been a practical child, naturally inquisitive of our environment and how it functioned. As a student, I was drawn to work which involved problem-solving. Looking back, perhaps it was my A-level Physics teacher, who happened to also be a woman, who inspired me with her extensive knowledge and sage advice. She matched my skillset to civil engineering roles and through my own research (in libraries, not on the yet-to-be discovered world wide web, I hasten to add), I forged my career in the sector.
At The University of Bradford, just eight of the 64 students were female and my summer placement as a ‘Chain Lad’ reinforced the sector’s gender imbalance. But my capability impressed the firm, and I was offered a permanent role with Kilroe who funded my final year through university.
Respect is earned, not demanded, and I believe women need to be 120% capable in their roles, as opposed to 70% for men, to prove their value and stand their ground in a niche industry such as mine. That said, I continue to be inspired by my colleagues and industry peers at Eric Wright Group, who genuinely respect all their team members and the individual skills each person brings to a project.
The stereotypical perception of our industry is changing and improving, and whilst women mustn’t take offence to remnants of its traditional male-dominated aspects, instead we need to demonstrate by example what teamwork and leadership means.
There are countless areas of civil engineering that I still enjoy in my everyday role and as an active member of the Civil Engineers & Contractors Association. I feel incredibly lucky to have ‘the moment I knew’ feeling on a daily basis, when I recognise I am working in my dream role: problem solving, relationship building, leading a team and spearheading civil engineering projects which have a positive impact on the communities where they are located.
So how do we address the fact that there are still only 10% of female engineers when women make up over 50% of the population?
Civil engineering needs to approach children at the ‘dream phase’ tackling the question of “what do I want to be when I grow up?” As chair of the Eric Wright Learning Foundation, we are aiming to lead the way in inspiring young people to consider engineering by engaging their imaginations and honing their skills.