Whether describing how the seeds of determination to succeed were sown from having to walk to the local boy’s school to attend honours maths, physics and chemistry classes, or how empathy helps you to be a more effective colleague when collaborating on projects, four female engineers describe their career journey

Civil

Whether describing how the seeds of determination to succeed were sown from having to walk to the local boy’s school to attend honours maths, physics and chemistry classes, or how empathy helps you to be a more effective colleague when collaborating on projects, four female engineers describe their career journey.

Mary Bowe, senior engineering inspector at Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII)


Mary Bowe.

Describe your role in TII
As a senior engineering inspector, I am responsible for all aspects of the management and delivery of TII capital projects within my region – from the effective development of scheme concepts right through to their timely implementation and compliance with prescribed procedures and standards.

In addition to managing major projects, I ensure the successful implementation of regional schemes, such as bridge renewals, Public Private Partnership (PPP) construction and safety schemes, and pavement and minor improvements.

A member of a regional management team, my duties include liaising with local authority officials – including the National Regional Roads Office (NRRO) staff and their consultants – on the technical, environmental and financial aspects of all road projects.

What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently acting as the authority’s representative on the N25 New Ross bypass, which includes the construction of a 900m-long bridge with two main spans of 230m. On completion, it will be the longest main span concrete extradosed bridge in the world and the longest bridge in Ireland.

Working together with the PPP to overcome the challenges of constructing such a complex, iconic bridge has been a great learning experience for me as a project manager and a civil engineer.

Seeing the scheme delivered in my home town will be the fulfilment of a major career ambition.

How have your past career experiences helped you in your current role?
I have always been involved in road design and the project management of road schemes. Before joining TII in 2005, I worked with both a local authority and a regional design office, where I was responsible for managing consultants and contractors. The experience helped me to develop my industry knowledge and connections, and also gave me an insight into what project managers and local authority engineers are dealing with in terms of progressing major and minor projects, pavement schemes and so on.

Achieving gender parity in engineering is viewed as critical. Do you think women bring particular skills and insights to engineering?
I think every individual, regardless of gender, brings their own unique set of skills and insights to engineering. Women tend to be more empathetic than men, however, and this can be a useful quality when dealing with people affected by large infrastructure projects.

Have you had any female role models to inspire or support you on your career journey?
There are many inspiring women in TII, several of whom work at very high levels within and across the organisation. Geraldine Fitzpatrick, head of roads capital programme, and Karina Downes, regional manager, have been great role models and mentors for me in the regional management team.

What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
A career in engineering can be very diverse and entail sa lot more than just technical work. In my role, I engage not only in design and construction issues but also in contract writing and management; procurement; legal issues; dealing with the public and media; and staff management of consultants and regional design offices.

What inspired you to become an engineer?
As a child, I enjoyed taking toys apart and putting them back together and, as I got older, programmes about historical structures, particularly the Pyramids and Chichen Itza, fascinated and inspired me.

Outside of work, what particular hobbies to you have?
My main interest is the gym and Olympic weightlifting, in particular. I have two silver European Masters medals and several national medals. I am also involved in Roller Derby, which is an all-female sport played on quad skates, and I managed ‘Team Ireland’ at the Roller Derby World Cup in 2018.

Catherine Sturgeon, project manager, MetroLink


Catherine Sturgeon.

What inspired you to become an engineer?
I was drawn to engineering because I was good at maths and the variety of subjects in the degree appealed to me. At the time, I remember my father saying that engineering was a good, flexible degree that would open many doors, even if I decided to pursue another career after qualifying. Years later, I discovered that both he and my mother thought it a peculiar choice for me but, thankfully, they didn’t try to dissuade me.

What do you enjoy most about your job as an engineer?
I enjoy the varied nature of my work as a project manager – each project is unique, with its own set of challenges and solutions. I also enjoy the problem-solving aspect of my job and the learning opportunities that come from working with different technical disciplines.

Your career in engineering has been quite diverse. How have your past experiences helped you in your current role?
I’m currently project managing the preliminary design stage for surface works on the MetroLink project. My approach has been influenced by my early years working with a London Underground maintenance company, where I gained a lot of experience working in the old tunnels and railways designing and implementing track and structural improvements.

My more recent experience on the Luas Docklands and Luas operating contracts projects has also been helpful. Seeing how these projects were built and operated was a great learning opportunity for me.

What has been your most challenging project to date and why?
The Luas Docklands and Luas Cross City were both technically challenging projects. Their location in the centre of Dublin city added an even greater layer of complexity. Solving challenges often required the buy-in of people outside the projects, and what worked on one street wouldn’t always work on another. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, however, I enjoyed working with the different project teams, and I appreciated the experience enormously.

Have you had any male or female role models to inspire or support you on your career journey?
I have had several incredibly supportive male managers during my career. I know I can pick up the phone to any one of them, if I need advice.

Achieving gender parity in engineering is viewed as critical. Do you think women bring particular skills and insights to engineering?
I think balanced teams perform better and achieve better results.

How can employers attract women back into the industry following a period away to raise a family, for example?
It is important for employers to have strong family-friendly policies, particularly around flexible and part-time working. Having a formal support network in place to help women adjust back into the workplace after a career break is also hugely important because a prolonged period away from work can have a negative impact on a woman’s self-confidence.

Geraldine Fitzpatrick, head of roads capital programme, TII


Geraldine Fitzpatrick.

Describe your role in TII?
As head of the roads capital programme at TII, my role involves managing and reporting on both the delivery and funding of the national roads capital programme. It requires oversight of the issues affecting delivery and support of our regional managers and senior engineering inspectors, who are in turn supported by our partners in the local authorities.

What projects are you currently working on?
I am responsible for leading our regional management teams to deliver on all the national roads major projects, as identified in the National Development Plan. Among the projects are the N25 New Ross PPP and the N4 Collooney to Castlebaldwin, both of which are under construction, and the N20 Cork to Limerick, which is in early planning.

My role is one of co-ordination at a strategic level, assisting the teams to progress these projects as efficiently and effectively as possible. I also manage the overall programmes of major and minor projects, including the allocation of the funding provision.

What inspired you to become an engineer?
I attended an all-girls post primary school and, twice daily, we walked to the local boy’s school to attend honours maths, physics and chemistry classes. At the time, the subjects were not taught in my school, so we were fortunate to be accommodated, and it made us more determined to succeed.

I remember a local civil engineer delivering a captivating presentation to the class one day, and it immediately sparked my interest in the subject and the possibilities and challenges it presented.

What do you enjoy most about your job as an engineer?
I work in an area that is constantly changing and developing; there are always new challenges to overcome. I also have the privilege of working with a team of professionals who are instrumental in the delivery of the major inter-urban network. And, finally, my job as an engineer allows me to contribute to the ongoing development of the road network while improving safety for roads users, supporting economic growth and providing better connectivity.

What has been your most challenging project to date and why?
The transition to my current role has been my biggest challenge to date. I spent 15 years directly involved in project delivery with the National Roads Authority (NRA) and then moved during the amalgamation of the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) and NRA. My current role requires more strategy, oversight and budget management than was the case in direct delivery.

Have you had any male or female role models to inspire or support you on your career journey?
In my early career, I was inspired by male role models, particularly line managers who were supportive and professional in their approach. Now, I am also inspired by female colleagues, particularly those whose area of expertise is different to my own. Their support, assistance and advice is greatly valued.

Can you offer any practical advice to young women considering a career in engineering?
As a career, engineering opens up numerous possibilities. If you are brave enough to engage and willing to look for advice when needed, many things are possible. Keep learning as you go along and build on these lessons. Look to your line managers and colleagues for advice, and do not be afraid to change your mind.

What are the most common misconceptions about your job and what can be done to change them?
The most common misconception is that engineers only need technical skills. While that is certainly part of the job, communication skills, conviction, the ability to look at the big picture and engage with other disciplines, and a determination to find a solution are all equally important.

What specific challenges, if any, have you faced as a female working in the engineering industry?
I have been accepted as a female engineer since the beginning of my career in the public service. Back then, the main challenges I faced were those common to any working mother with a young family – trying to balance work and family commitments.

I have probably been lucky in the working environment that I chose; it may be more difficult for female engineers working in the private sector, especially on site.

Have you any particular career goals that you would like to achieve in the short or longer term?
My current goal is to promote the delivery of the capital projects and programme and to do so in the most professional manner possible so that the funding provided is optimised and the desired benefits are achieved.

Helen Hughes, director, professional services, TII


What inspired you to become an engineer?
As a child, I spent many summer holidays exploring the countryside with my family. My father, who was a civil engineer, would often make a detour to show us past projects he had been involved in – from water towers to bridges to reservoirs. His pride in the projects impressed me and whetted my appetite to learn more about engineering.

Helen Hughes.

Your career in engineering has been quite diverse. How have your past experiences helped you in your current role?
I have worked on road, tunnel and bridge projects for both public and private sector organisations in the UK, France and Ireland. This varied experience taught me to appreciate not just the different approaches to delivering projects but also the challenges facing both sectors. That understanding is, I hope, reflected in my approach to working with stakeholders and the supply chain.

What has been the most challenging period in your career to date?
The beginning of the noughties was a challenging and exciting time. The NRA had been tasked with developing the major inter-urban road network between Dublin and the five main cities and, as engineering inspector for the south-east region, I was involved in progressing the M9 Dublin to Waterford motorway and the Waterford city bypass.

At the same time, we were carrying out route selection for several other projects, including the Enniscorthy bypass, which opened in July, and New Ross bypass, which is due to open in November.

It was intense period but one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Have you had any male or female role models to inspire or support you on your career journey?
I have had several role models – mostly male managers – during my career. Their honest feedback, though not always positive, has always been appreciated! When I got a promotion a few years ago, I brought them all out to lunch as my way of saying thank you.

What are the most common misconceptions about your job and what can be done to change them?
Many people think a civil engineer is always on site when, in reality, the construction stage is generally quite short in the overall life cycle of a project, and a lot of work is done during the planning, design, operation and maintenance phases.

Achieving gender parity in engineering is viewed as critical. Do you think women bring particular skills and insights to engineering?
A diverse workforce adds enormous value to an organisation, and a growing number of employers recognise that. In my view, women are generally good at collaborating, balanced decision-making and taking a longer-term view of things. And, their interpersonal skills make them ideally suited to management roles.

What do you enjoy most about your job as an engineer?
I am proud of my contribution to improving Ireland’s road network and making a tangible difference to people’s lives.

https://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/a5-1.jpghttps://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/a5-1-300x300.jpgDavid O'RiordanCivilcivil,education,Transport Infrastructure Ireland
Whether describing how the seeds of determination to succeed were sown from having to walk to the local boy’s school to attend honours maths, physics and chemistry classes, or how empathy helps you to be a more effective colleague when collaborating on projects, four female engineers describe their career journey. Mary...