I have been working as a civil engineering contractor since I graduated from Leeds University in 1996.
I went into engineering as I have always loved architecture and the built environment that we live in. Although I did start off dreaming of being an architect, I found a niche in the practical ‘on site’ side of restoration of historical buildings and structures in London. The complex temporary structures and controls required to retain a 100 year old façade whilst demolishing and re building the rest of the structure provides plenty of engineering challenges. No two days have ever been the same, and now, having worked in tunnelling, stations, bridges, Grade II listed structures, new office and residential buildings I relish the diversity of projects I have worked on and what I am able to take on next.
I had my first child in 2003 and returned to work a few months later working 3 days a week. At first I was carrying out an essential quality and safety support function, but very soon returned to the engineering function and the project engineer role, Having already reached this grade before leaving on maternity leave, I was confident that I could provide this role on 3 days a week leaving me precious time with my baby. I was gradually given more complicated projects to engineer and built up some considerable responsibility. Now in 2015, I have 3 children, and maintained 3 days a week until the youngest started school this September. I am now working 4 days a week with some flexibility around the school run.
As an engineer, I do like to analyse details of design. What I enjoy most is trying to work out the exact methodology and logistics required to build each element of a structure, or indeed how an existing structure can be demolished. There have been many times when I have sat at home, having tucked the kids up, then studied drawings with red felt tip pens carving out a sequence or looking for improvements in a proposed construction method.
The main message that I want to convey is that I have had an amazing time with a tough, exacting, stressful and rewarding job in civil engineering that I have balanced with raising my family. I appreciate that this was a path that I chose, but I would love to see many more women choosing something similar. In construction you get to work with such a great diversity of people. Some utterly impossible and others a complete joy. All the time, the engineering – Where should we locate the crane? How tall should we make it? Can we prefabricate to make a process safer on site? How will the building services interface with the structure and the architectural finishes? How will we achieve the quality in the specification? Can it be achieved at all? continues to challenge me.