We all get into engineering because we want to shape the future. But traditionally women can face challenges that prevent them from reaching their full potential. From battling stereotypes and the gender pay gap, to burning-out over career and home commitments – the wider industry has not always been a supportive place for bright, ambitious women. We recently caught up with a group of female colleagues at Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin group. We wanted to know, when it comes to career progression, support and training – how does the business stack up and where are we improving? Here’s what they had to say…
Bhagi Hegde – Senior Geotechnical Engineer
How have our company programmes designed to boost women helped with your career progression?
I completed the Women’s Professional Development programme training after my return from maternity break, and that really got me thinking about my burning goals, my ambitions and gave me the mind-set to be proud of what I do. It really boosted my self-confidence and self-image and put me on track with making progress with my Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) chartership.
Is Atkins a good place for working women?
It’s an incredible place to work and offers full support for health and safety, wellbeing, professional development – and a flexible supportive workplace to help you achieve a good work/life balance. The flexible working is based on mutual trust. I have never had to worry about taking time off when my child was unwell, because my team trusts that I will deliver on my projects.
We have the right tools and support at hand, and networks such as Women’s Professional Network, the Professional Development Programme, and the support from the senior management level and practice level is incredibly strong – making this place one of the best for a woman engineer/scientist/employee to thrive.
Kathryn Duncan – Project Manager
Are we taking the important stuff seriously enough?
There has been a lot of hype in the industry recently over the gender pay gap. However, the company has been addressing the gender gap at a senior level over several years through various initiatives. The Atkins business isn’t just paying lip service to supporting women in the workplace, I firmly believe they are taking it seriously.
How have other women supported you at Atkins?
While working on Birmingham New Street Project 2012-14 I was fortunate enough to acquire two female mentors from the Transportation and Infrastructure sectors. What started as a working relationship developed into a post-project mentorship and friendship with both women, who encourage me to do my best at work and actively look for the next career opportunity. All discussed regularly in one of the many Birmingham ‘Wagamamas’!
Every office has a Women’s Professional Network and thanks to our internal social network, Yammer, there is company-wide visibility of what each network is doing. The Women’s Development Programme was initially only open to Grade 12 staff and higher but the Atkins business acknowledged the need to support more female junior staff to ensure they have the right skillset to progress their careers within a male dominated environment.
How are we doing with helping you manage your work/life balance after becoming a Mum?
Towards the end of my 12 months’ maternity leave I did three ‘Keep in Touch’ days back in the office. During this time, I had meaningful conversations with my Line Manager about what I wanted to do and which days I wanted to work. There was zero pressure on me to return on a full-time basis and work on a specific project. The knowledge that I could undertake a role that I wanted and do it through flexible working was a comfort after such a long period of time away from work.
During my first few months back, I had regular catch ups with my Line Manager to discuss different project opportunities and my future career progression. It was refreshing to hear there was no expectation to increase my working hours to secure a promotion, which is the unfortunate position some of my ‘Mum Mates’ are now in, since returning to work for different organisations.
Alison Graham – Principal Geotechnical Engineer
How are we doing on gender issues in the workplace?
I’ve never felt that I have been held back in my career here, due to my gender. I have had informal mentoring from my line managers throughout my 18 years with the Atkins business and they have always encouraged me in my career progression and I have had the opportunity to progress.
Within Geotechnical Engineering (GE) the gender balance is probably better than the average Engineering Team, so in my opinion my gender is not something that has held me back. The GE working environment is inclusive and looks for the right person to fulfil a role based on their skills and experience.
What makes our programmes unique for working Mums?
The ParentNet forum on Yammer, the flexible working, Line Managers who are enabled to allow staff to work flexibly by senior management and staff forums to allow views to be provided to the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and discussions had several issues relating to the working environment.
In my opinion, the outlook of your line manager makes all the difference on how flexible ‘flexible working’ can be. But where the company is flexible with staff, the staff on the whole are flexible in return − such as working outside the agreed hours to meet deadlines.
Niki Fanouraki – Geotechnical Engineer
How’s our company culture with regard to gender?
From the very beginning I eased into the Atkins culture, where everyone is welcomed, encouraged and supported to be the best they can, and to develop further, technically and otherwise. Although opportunities may vary wildly between the various office locations and parts of the business, during my tenure with the Atkins business I have not come across gender barriers. It could of course be of benefit to seek support/programmes/networks for women but so far I have not perceived these to be necessary to progress professionally. I.e. in my experience, progression has been merit-based.
What do you value most about our women’s support programmes and structures?
Having flexibility with start/end times and lunch breaks and being able to buy up to 15 days of extra leave and parental leave has been extremely helpful. And by having a company laptop and my line manager’s support, I’ve been able to occasionally work from home for a few hours and make up valuable work time, when I would have otherwise needed to book leave to attend an event in school, or to take the children to a medical appointment or look after them during illness or while convalescing. This has also been good for the company, as it enables me to be dependable when delivering work to agreed deadlines.
Danielle Wynn – Regional Director, Head of Marketing London & South East
You have huge amounts of responsibility and commitments at Faithful+Gould, a member of the SNC-Lavalin group,
– how do you make it work?
I am a firm believer in flexible working. I will often work in the evenings to ensure I’m on top of my workload and deadlines, so that I can be in later due to a school drop off, school assembly etc. This is becoming more commonplace, with many men starting to flex, which makes it easier as there is less question about it.
Being very open about my working hours also helps, rather than hiding that I’m not available at some points of the week. It’s really important to have that level of trust, not just between line manager and employee but with the whole team. If we each see one another working hard and to the same goals it really helps. There are still those that feel they need to see you, to know you are working – but this is fast becoming a thing of the past.
How do we help to enable your flexible working?
I have a good line manager who respects and understands my commitments and allows me to work from wherever is best for me. Technology – with network access, WiFi, data sites and phone calls – means I can literally be anywhere with a secure location. I often work on the train too as I have a long commute into London. All of this helps me. Additionally, the company’s belief in flexible working and the fact that senior members (including men) are promoting it, means it’s becoming less of a challenge in practice.