The Structural Engineer!

Forget hardhats: engineering is about creativity, knowledge and relationships

Najwa Jawahar – WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff structural engineer

Dated – 23rd June 2015


I still remember the conversation I had with my physics teacher during my A-Levels when we both were trying to find a suitable career for myself. Knowing my strength with numbers and interest in mechanics, we narrowed it down to engineering subjects. I chose a civil and structural engineering course at the University of Leeds in 2007, and graduated with a first class degree in 2011.

At first I wondered whether the decision of joining a male dominated field is right for me. Did I really want to wear a yellow vest with muddy site boots and a hard hat all the time? Would I be able to express my ideas, show my creative and innovative side, and present my ideas in a comfortable setting?

My hesitation of whether I will be able to settle in an engineering organisation faded rapidly upon joining WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff in 2012, especially when I saw other women engineers working successfully at all grades, albeit with different cultural backgrounds and working styles. They led on challenging projects as well as teams of engineers and technicians. I also realised that working for a consultancy means you work in an office environment. You need brain power, creativity, problem solving skills, innovation, team working, technological tools, a nice brew and your passion to make a difference, to design world-class tall buildings. I’m only in a hard hat working on site for about 5% of my time.

As a graduate engineer in our building structures team, I have found myself developing as an engineer all the time. I work on some of the most fascinating high profile residential and commercial developments in London. From first day of joining the company, I started working on some very exciting and challenging engineering problems, which has allowed me to accelerate my learning curve and positively contribute towards producing something tangible. I have a chance to make my mark on signature projects rising up into the city’s skyline.

Another thing I really enjoy is the work culture of engineering, which promotes knowledge sharing. I still remember, in my first year I teamed up with three other graduates to work on a competition project, which had a very tight deadline. To gather maximum experience and thoughts in a short timeframe we spoke to almost 20 engineers, and no-one refused to spend time with us to share what they know. This helped us to develop contacts with other more experienced engineers working on higher calibre project. My company is ‘multidisciplinary’, which means there are lots of different types of engineers. From one project to the next I could be working with someone that was a specialist in acoustics, electrics, fire safety, escalators, or plumbing. There is an engineer for everything!

It’s important to remember engineering is a business too. You need to develop strong organisational and leadership skills whilst developing relationships with people not only in your department but also with individuals inside and outside the company.

One thing I didn’t consider was that being in engineering doesn’t mean I lose touch to my feminine side, and you keep your desire to teach and guide the next generation. From day one, I became part of the Launchpad scheme, an apprenticeship programme for the 16-19 years old, helping them identify different career routes available for them and promoting engineering to the next generation through STEM activities.

In a nutshell, my perception of being a woman in engineering changed the second I started working. It’s not all about working. On a day to day basis I really enjoy crunching numbers, developing ideas on how buildings will stand up, talking to people about their projects, discussing challenges I have on my projects, finding solutions, and being part of a dynamic team.

I’m so glad my physics teacher and I made the right decision!


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This entry was posted on January 2, 2016 by .

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