Being a Female Structural Engineer
What's it like being a Structural Engineer?
Kate lives in South London with her husband and works in Epsom. She uses her engineering skills outside of work to get involved with charities like STEMNet, Engineers without borders and RedR.
Job title: Senior Structural Engineer
Current employer: Atkins - A Global Engineering, Design and Project Management Consultancy
Hours: 40 hours per week on average
How long have you been practising in this field? 9 years.
In your current role, what do you spend your time doing?
As a structural engineer, I spend my time working with other people to design buildings and make sure they get built properly. I use maths and science and computers to draw 3-D models.
What's it like working in your role? What does a typical day look like?
It really depends on the project I’m working on. At the moment I’m based in the office nearest my home, dealing with clients by phone or face-to-face, leading a team of other engineers, doing computer-based design or hand calculations, sketching ideas, writing reports and attending meetings.
On other projects I’ve been based in various other offices (including India for 3 months) and ‘on-site’ (where the building is being built) during construction. I'm always dealing with people from lots of different backgrounds - architects, other engineers, on-site operatives and clients - and I'm always solving problems. Sometimes there’s lots of problems to solve in the day to keep the construction process moving, other times it's a few bigger design-based problems which can take days or weeks to work through.
Are there any specific qualifications you are required to have in your field?
I have a Masters degree and am professionally chartered - but there are increasing numbers of people going through apprenticeship routes, so you can enter the profession straight from school and work towards degree/chartership whilst working.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
There's lots of things I love - it’s great when you figure out a solution to something and it works. It’s awesome seeing something that you've designed being built, and it’s really fun helping colleagues learn and progress.
What were your favourite subjects at school?
Drama, History, Maths and Science.
Was there anything you liked doing at school that helped you get to this career?
In primary school I think group projects, maths and science and running experiments helped. At secondary school, additionally Design and Technology and Drama probably helped supplement those skills.
What did you want to be as a child when you 'grew up'?
Many things! At secondary school I wanted to join the army.
Can you remember what your parents reactions were to that aspiration?
I don’t think they were thrilled - they were relieved when I was ruled out of the army by my asthma.
Has anyone ever been surprised when you told them that you were an Engineer?
Yes, people outside the industry are generally surprised, but they also don't have a very good idea of what engineers do.
What do you think are attitudes towards and expectations of women in your profession?
Societal expectations do intrude at times - you see a lot fewer women on site - women are not expected to want to be in the ‘harder’, ‘dirtier’ areas of the job. People are always apologising for swearing (although minor this is symptomatic sexism).
There is still a big disparity between numbers of men and women in senior roles - you find that women reaching senior levels in engineering or construction companies tend to be in the functional roles like HR and Finance. Women tend to be more involved with the less-appreciated extra-curricular work like STEMNet or other charities.
There’s seems to be an expectation that women will get to a certain point, have babies and then start working part time and there’s still a lack of value placed on part-time workers, particularly on site. Things are changing and there are pockets of good practice.
Are there any challenges or benefits working as an Engineer?
It can be long hours and high pressure. A good team helps, as does the ability to leave work behind when you go home. Depending on what type of job you go into, you may end up spending long periods of time away from home, I have a very supportive husband and no caring responsibilities yet, so that's something to consider.
What advice would you give to young girls who are aspiring to be in your role, or who maybe haven't even considered it as a career?
Consider it! Engineering is a very broad area but engineers are always there to solve problems and the main thing we do is change the world around us through building the roads and structures that we all need to live and move around, designing the medical equipment that doctors use to save lives - or even going to developing or disaster-struck countries and helping them rebuild.
Hours: 35-40 hours/week. Usually 9am- 5:30 pm Monday to Friday, with some occasional evening and weekend work where necessary. Longer hours on-site, around 8 am - 6 pm.
Starting salary: Usually around £20k
Qualifications required: Degree in civil or structural engineering or apprenticeships after GCSEs'.
11% of the engineering workforce is female (2017, WES).
15.1% of engineering undergraduates in the UK in 2017 are women.(2) Compared with India: where over 30% of engineering students are women.
"Engineers are always there to solve problems. The main thing we do is change the world around us, whether that’s by building roads and structures that we need to live, or designing the medical equipment that doctors use to save lives - or going to disaster-struck countries and helping them rebuild."
Prospects.ac.uk: Find out more about being a structural engineer.
SWE: For more than six decades, SWE has given women engineers a unique place and voice within the engineering industry.
National careers service: structural engineering information.
UCAS: structural engineering information.
Reed.co.uk: how to become a structural engineer.
Institute of Civil Engineers: A professional membership body that provides unrivalled support to 90,000 civil engineer members.
The Institution of Structural Engineers: The Institution is an internationally recognised source of expertise and information concerning all issues that involve structural engineering and public safety within the built environment.
WES: The Women's Engineering Society is a charity and a professional network of women engineers, scientists and technologists offering inspiration, support and professional development. They support and inspire women to achieve as engineers, scientists and as leaders; encourage the education of engineering; and support companies with gender diversity and inclusion.