“A career in engineering is a great challenge, very rewarding, and the industry is full of interesting people – I personally wouldn’t want to do anything else”
In light of International Women in Engineering Day, we are proud to share insight into some of our female engineer’s careers. We had the chance to talk to Lisa Rapson, and Associate Director of Infrastructure & Environment in London, and this is what she had to say:
We will spend the vast majority of our lives at work and I wanted a career to keep me challenged and constantly learning, offering variety and versatility, and engineering certainly does that. What greater reward is there than to see our efforts in the form of a building or road, which ultimately plays a key part of the community for many years to come? As an Engineer, we are creating a legacy.
Like many people, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I left school but I was good at Maths and Science and so wanted to play to my strengths. I had the opportunity as a teenager to spend a year on a Youth Training Scheme and I chose engineering, spending a year in a laboratory testing materials used in the construction industry. After that, I undertook an Apprenticeship for 4 years which I thoroughly enjoyed it and from that point I knew that engineering was the industry for me.
I entered into engineering in the early 80’s and wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found that I was in the minority. In fact, there were no women in engineering within my particular area, but as I was starting out a few female Graduates started to come on board. Over the years, the numbers have grown, which is great to see.
Although the industry is challenging, there is no denying that historically (and certainly at the time I started) it was a very male dominated environment. The real challenge, certainly for me, was to be recognised by my male colleagues as an Engineer, to earn their respect and to attain credibility within my chosen profession.
A defining moment within my career was the year I spent in Bahrain building an island. It was to be built in two stages, each stage was 1.5 x 4.5 km in area, and when I arrived only the Southern most edge had been constructed. The project needed some co-ordination to pull it all together and this was the role that I performed.
Throughout the scheme I worked with various design disciplines across many global locations with different time zones, working with a challenging middle eastern client and US contractor on site. As you may imagine, these were three very diverse cultures to become accustomed to. By the time we had delivered the Phase 1 reclamation works and secured Phase 2, I had earnt the respect of my middle eastern client and their Project Managers, which is an achievement I will always take with me.
I previously mentioned that, in my early career, pursuing a career in engineering as a women was rare. When I used to attend meetings, it was generally thought that I would be seen and not heard, that I was there to take notes on the discussion. However, nowadays I feel that when I do attend meetings, even when I am not very vocal, the audience are keen to listen to my contributions, which is great and makes me feel that people believe I have something to offer. How things change.
I am always excited to go into work and start a new day. I know every day is different; no two days are the same, I do not know what project I will be involved in next and I never know who I shall meet. Engineering is a journey into the unknown, a challenge and a learning experience. The ultimate prize is the achievement of delivering a project and knowing the role it will play in people’s daily lives.
I feel there are a lot of people that do not really understand what engineering is about, what the industry stands for and what it can offer them as individuals or to our communities. It’s the platform to a way of life. International Women in Engineering Day is a great forum to spread the message across an international stage and to reach all walks of life. I have attended a few events for Women in Engineering and was pleasantly surprised to see how many of our male colleagues supported this initiative.
I would say the same thing to any man or woman who is considering a career in engineering – it’s a great challenge, it’s very rewarding, and is an industry full of interesting people with different cultures that give you a different perspective on both the profession and life. I personally wouldn’t want to do anything else.
You can also view our International Women in Engineering Day video here.