Civil and structural engineering
Girl looking at wind turbine

Graduate careers for the girls: women in structural engineering

Two female graduate structural engineers share their on-the-job experiences and career aspirations.
There can actually be an advantage in being in enough of a minority to be noticed.

The project engineer

Marie Murphy spoke to TARGETjobs while working as a project engineer and assistant commercial manager with Hyder Consulting. She's found that you stand and fall by your decision-making, not your gender. But that's not to say she isn't glad of male and female loos on site!

One of the great things about civil engineering is the amount of responsibility you can get. My ambitions are to go into management and I'm currently building up my experience. You need plenty of knowledge and a great deal of confidence whether you're a man or a woman.

When I was at school our career guidance teacher's son was working in civil engineering. She was very enthusiastic about the profession, and passed it on to me. At the time there was a big drive to get women working in engineering and I got to meet several women already working as engineers. I was attracted by the variety of the job and the travel opportunities.

When I started work as a graduate engineer I was assistant engineer of a structural project, and then moved on to telecoms. My next placement was in railways and I then requested to move back to structures, because design has always interested me. At the moment I'm responsible for a PFI project - new build and refurbishment on a school in Richmond.

Two of the refurbishments are at the design stage and I spend most of my time finalising the engineering design. I also field questions from subcontractors from the other sites that are nearly complete. I visit the site once a fortnight and also arrange design and progress meetings. I have to ensure that the client has all the information they need at every stage. I'm also responsible for the commercial aspect of the project.

As I'm not often on site, I don't know if I'm treated any differently by subcontractors. But I know things have improved dramatically in the past few years. For example, now, all sites have male and female loos, which wasn't always the case before. But it is important to be firm and make good decisions. If you don't do that, you risk not getting on well with subcontractors.

The graduate engineer

Hannah Lehmann spoke to TARGETjobs while working as a graduate engineer at Arup. She believes that female engineers are a good antidote to testosterone-heavy workplaces.

Whenever I tell anyone I'm an engineer they always ask me what it's like working in a male-dominated environment. I get the impression that people think I'm very brave, or chose my career as a kind of feminist protest! I usually reply that I've never had any problems with discrimination at work, nor do I see myself primarily as a 'female' civil engineer - I'm just me.

I'm a pure structural engineer which means I work mainly on buildings rather than on bridges and tunnels.  It is a bit strange being in a minority but I've experienced it since choosing technology for GCSE so I'm used to it now. Girls tend to make a definite decision to choose civil engineering as a university subject, while boys can just fall into it, so girls can be more dominant and have more to contribute.

There can actually be an advantage in being in enough of a minority to be noticed, but not too much to feel overwhelmed. If people do think it strange to work with a female engineer, they're usually over 50, and haven't grown up with equal opportunities being a given. But I feel woman can make a workplace more balanced and calm - in a male-only office you can feel the testosterone zinging around!