• 22 June 2017

“It is such a varied and diverse industry, filled with exciting opportunities and rewards – there is a niche for everyone”

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 Sophie McCabe, Associate Director within our Infrastructure & Environment team in London, and this is what she had to say:

I haven’t come into the industry with the traditional background of an engineering degree, but do not feel this has held me back. I undertook a combined honours in Geography, Planning and Architecture at University, which is where my interest in the industry began. My dissertation focussed on space and place, and how the built environment could engender (or ideally alleviate) people’s sense of fear. Based on this experience, I wanted to get involved in the construction industry and have a sense that something tangible was being built with my input. Combining engineering with flood risk made use of my background knowledge (both physical and human elements), and seemed the perfect balance.

I didn’t always plan to work in this industry but through my experiences and based on my areas of knowledge, this was a very exciting opportunity to explore. Engineering has been much more than I expected, with a variety of projects keeping it interesting, and I have now been working at Waterman for 10 years – it has flown by!

Earlier in my career I was conscious of being a woman in a male dominated role, particularly in client meetings when I would often be the only woman. However, I have overcome this with greater confidence as my career has progressed. I feel that the dynamics are changing, with more female clients then there have been in the past, which can only be a positive. Hopefully this will encourage woman to pursue a career in the construction industry.

My new challenge, having just returned to work following maternity leave, is to balance my work and home life. It is important for me to continue progressing within my career however, I am also conscious that I want to be around for my young daughter. Waterman have been very supportive in allowing flexibility for me to work from home, proving very accommodating to mothers returning to work, and it makes the transition so much easier to manage.

One of the rewarding moments of my career is my work on Westgate, a large mixed-use retail scheme in Oxford. It is a project I began working on as a Graduate over 10 years ago and have since taken on a heavy involvement in the planning applications, discharge of conditions and construction. The scheme had many challenges in relation to flood risk, and I attended the planning committee meetings to take questions from both the public and committee members. I developed good relationships with the Environment Agency and the planners over this period, building trust which led to a smooth transition through planning and an overall successful scheme.

I am very excited that construction is now in full swing. The shopping centre is due to open later this year, for which I am definitely planning a trip. Seeing it being constructed makes all the effort worthwhile!

Seeing buildings being constructed and then occupied is the most exciting part for me about my job, seeing something tangible that you can legitimately say ‘I had a hand in that’. If I pass Waterman schemes I can’t help but point them out. I’m not sure my friends are equally interested…. but it fills me with a great sense of pride.

I feel that men are generally better than women at shouting about their accomplishments and therefore, those not currently in the industry can get the impression that only men can succeed. International Women in Engineering Day highlights that woman are involved at all levels and disciplines within engineering, and more importantly that they are successful and enjoying their jobs.

It seems a general belief that engineering can be considered heavily maths dependant, with a large focus on calculations and being stuck at a desk all day. Although design / calculations do form a strong basis for our work, engineering is so much more than that; involving problem solving, ingenuity, face to face negotiations, client meetings, meeting the public and site visits etc.

The interesting thing about engineering is that you can learn something new every day. There are always new policies or standards being published and software updates / new products being brought to the market. As a profession, I feel it has changed greatly in comparison to when I began – it keeps you on your toes.

For anyone considering a career in engineering, I would say “do it”! It is such a varied and diverse industry, filled with exciting opportunities and rewards – there is a niche for everyone.

Sophie McCabe

You can also view our International Women in Engineering Day video here.

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