Magazine article Management Today

What Glass Ceiling?

Magazine article Management Today

What Glass Ceiling?

Article excerpt

Engineering may no longer be entirely male dominated, but women still need role models.

When I was training as an engineer 25 years ago, I had to spend a month in a team of 40- to 50-year-old draftsmen. There were girly calendars on the walls. In those days you'd open a trade magazine and they'd have a girl in a bikini holding a trowel in a brick advert. I was pretty much always the only woman in any meeting, but you just got used to it.

I was interviewed for 35 Women Under 35 in 2001 when I was working on the Royal Geographic Society refurbishment. That was the first project where I had a female client. I noticed it made a difference. I felt less conspicuous. My previous project had been Wembley Park Station where the team had all been men. Now female clients are very normal, and last year more than 35% of the graduates Arup recruited were women, from a pool of around 14%.

In the 80s, when I studied at Cambridge University, it was all about science and technology. But what I was interested in was design and engineering as an enabler of society. When I started working, it was on projects with world-class architects like Norman Foster and Richard Rogers. I was very focused on designing buildings that contributed to society such as the National Portrait Gallery refurbishment. I particularly enjoyed designing schools and university campuses, and a Surestart nursery in south London - offices never interested me.

At the same time, I got involved with a charity called RedR that trains and sends engineers out to post-disaster situations.

My first assignment was in Tanzania during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

A decade later, when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck, I was asked to go to work for the UN in Sri Lanka. It was one of the rare jobs you can't refuse, where you think, 'It's got me on the label.' I was coordinating about 100 NGOs to build 60,000 shelters, working closely with the government. Less than a year after the tsunami no-one was living in tents.

When I came back I realised I'd reached one of those crossroads in my life. I was interested in the challenges rapid urbanisation present in developing countries, and the need for infrastructure. I felt there was a unique opportunity to establish a not-for-profit business that focused on international development, but drew on the knowledge of 12,000 people within Arup.

Now we're working with the Rockefeller Foundation on making cities more resilient. In Bangladesh, we're helping the International Labour Organization train local firms to carry out assessments of factories after the Rana Plaza collapse. …

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