It’s International Women in Engineering Day, and we’re celebrating the women in our industry who love building, innovating and solving problems. It’s not just about existing female engineers, though. We want to encourage other women to join the profession, as it’s a varied and exciting career that enables people to look back at projects with pride and think, ‘I built that’ or ‘I created that’.
We’ve interviewed two engineers from Walter Lilly – Erica Denman and Gemma Carey (on secondment from Price & Myers) – to find out how they became engineers and what they love about their roles.
When – or how – did you know you wanted to become an engineer?
Gemma: To be honest, I always thought I’d be an architect. But then I started looking at engineering roles in construction, and I realised the profession would encompass everything I loved: art, design, and maths. And I haven’t looked back since!
Erica: I’ve worked at Walter Lilly for 17 years, first as a Quantity Surveyor, and then as a Revit Technician. After seven years I decided to train as a civil engineer.
Engineering suits me perfectly because it’s a great feeling to have technical knowledge – for example knowing how and why a building is standing up. I also love understanding the craftsmanship of the people we work with.
What is it about engineering at Walter Lilly (and Price & Myers) that pleases you?
Gemma: Being an engineer is sometimes like being a detective. Especially when working on old buildings. There’s always stuff hidden in the rafters, behind walls, or within the foundations that we may not have known about before the project starts. It’s interesting because the discoveries present problems. And engineers love to solve problems!
Engineering also enables me to see things that the public may never see. For example, a view of London from rooftops that most people will never go on. Or the under-stage spaces of a 1930s theatre. It’s a privilege.
Erica: Walter Lilly is a great company for engineers because of our specialist sectors: high quality residential, science and higher education, and landmark and heritage. We work on beautiful, important, ‘wow-factor’ properties, using materials we wouldn’t ordinarily work with on another construction site. It’s fascinating and we learn a great deal.
Describe your typical day
Gemma: No two days are ever the same! I could be in the office one day, and on site the next, assisting with a concrete pour or setting out steel. It’s very varied.
Erica: I agree with Gemma. There’s no typical day. There’s a good mix of being on site and in the office, and in any one week I could be working on tenders for a new project, planning the buildability of a scheme, or managing site issues around temporary works. It’s varied.
How are women changing the field of engineering, or changing the world through engineering?
Gemma: Women bring a different train of thought, which is a good thing, especially when it comes to problem solving. Diversity is also key, as I believe in everyone being raised together.
Erica: Women definitely bring a different train of thought to the table. I also believe that women have softened site chit-chat and banter! The tone of communication and people skills are perhaps more measured and careful when there’s a mix of genders on site. This is a good thing, especially in an industry that wants to attract more women and other diverse communities.
We’ve read a statistic that says girls perform better at Maths, but they only make up 21% of all engineering students. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Gemma: I’ve never heard this, so I can’t comment. However, I will say that I’ve never felt any boundaries or encountered issues on site because of my gender. I also think STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) is becoming more popular for girls, which is encouraging.
Erica: The statistic rings true for when I studied maths and engineering. There were less girls/women on my courses. Hopefully this is changing though. I believe women are very detail-orientated and streamlined – and these are both great qualities for aspiring engineering students.
What’s the best career advice you have for aspiring female engineers?
Gemma: My biggest advice is to jump in with both feet! Get as much experience as you can in the office and on site. Embrace all new technologies. Never be afraid to challenge someone else’s thinking, as this can lead to innovation. Finally, always ask for advice and clarification if you don’t understand something. It’s the best way to learn.
Erica: Do not be put off by the fact you’ll be in a gender minority, especially when working for a company such as Walter Lilly where all team members are friendly and welcoming, and gender/diversity is not an issue. Also, never be afraid to ask questions. Finally, be proud of the ‘softer’ female qualities you’ll bring to a site or project. It will stand you in good stead.
About Gemma and Erica
Gemma is currently on secondment from Price & Myers and will be experiencing life on site with Walter Lilly for four months.
Gemma has a structural engineering degree from the University of Bath.
Her most recent projects have included working on the restoration of a 1930s theatre, plus the installation of a basement within a prestigious home near St. James Park, London.
Erica has worked at Walter Lilly for 17 years. She has also been a Quantity Surveyor and a Revit Technician.
Erica has a BSc (Hons) Maths and Business degree from the University of Surrey, a Post Graduate Diploma in Surveying from the University of Reading, plus a BEng in Structural Engineering from the London South Bank University. You can read more about Erica’s career history here.
About International Women in Engineering Day
International Women in Engineering Day, brought to you by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) will celebrate its 9th year in 20220. Figures as of June 2021 show that 16.5% of engineers are women. INWED gives women engineers around the world a profile when they are still hugely under-represented in their professions. As the only platform of its kind, it plays a vital role in encouraging more young women and girls to take up engineering careers. This year’s theme is inventors and innovators. Read more here.