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International Women's Day 2019

November 12, 2019

The theme for this year is #BalanceforBetter with the aim of creating a gender-balanced world

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the achievements of women—be it economic, cultural, social or political. It is celebrated every year and spans across all industries and disciplines. 

Stantec has marked the day by asking some of our brilliant women to tell us how and why they chose their careers and any advice they had to share for women starting out in their respective disciplines.

Margaret Theobald, Director — Transport Planning

1. How and why did you choose your career?

No-one grows up with a passion for or a desire to be a transport planner! When I left school, I wanted to work in the oil exploration industry. I qualified as a geophysicist and worked for an exploration company for two years. It finally dawned on me, I was more interested in people than rocks! I began to look for other careers and answered an ad in the local paper for a role in the road accident investigation team at Essex County Council. That was the start of a varied and challenging career in traffic engineering and transport planning. Transport planning is the intersection of many things I care about, it’s technically challenging, it’s fundamentally about people and how they choose to live. It’s about creating great places. It’s collaborative, ideas-driven, innovative, evolving and fun! You get to work with some very creative people and I have contributed to some very exciting projects that have an impact on many people’s lives including the Second Severn Crossing, Crossrail and HS2.

2. Advice for women starting out in this field of work?

If you don’t put yourself forward you can’t rely on others to do it for you, so don’t sell yourself short. Work on your technical and communication skills to enable you to be your very best. Be persistent and patient, be open to new ideas and opportunities. Be an advocate for yourself and others, be an ally and recognise your allies; there is a real strength in a network. Above all be confident; your experience and ideas are unique and valuable.

Naomi Ashcroft, Senior Associate — Water Management

1. How and why did you choose your career?

I have my School Careers Teacher to thank! He introduced me to Civil Engineering as a career option when I was in sixth form. I enjoyed maths, the sciences, geography, and the outdoors. A school trip to a construction site on the M42 together with a couple of days introduction to “This is Civil Engineering” at Hatfield Polytechnic convinced me.

Quite a few of my school friends were looking at medicine at the time. I decided that I could make a difference through the field of civil engineering.

2. Advice for women starting out in this field of work?

Experiencing the workplace and understanding how you will be spending the bulk of your working life is critical. So, grab the opportunity for workplace experiences before making your career choice. Your career is a series of stepping stones so set yourself realistic goals which you can keep focused on and re-evaluate as you progress. Remember that anything is possible and setbacks are inevitable. How you bounce back is the important bit.

Susan Kvalheim, Associate — Buildings

1. How and why did you choose your career?

From an early age, I have always been interested in how things fit together—from playing with Lego blocks as a child to taking woodwork classes during school—and problem-solving, mathematical or otherwise.

With a strong interest in maths, design and physics academically, engineering seemed an obvious choice when considering my options for further study. I studied for an undergraduate master’s in civil engineering which covered a split of civil and structural engineering; it also included a placement year in industry halfway through.

The year in the industry allowed me to work within a range of engineering disciplines—civils, structural, energy and transport—which helped pinpoint my interest in structural engineering. I had the opportunity to work on real-life projects including works on the St Pancras station refurbishment / Channel Tunnel Rail Link, waste transfer stations and structural investigations into a Victorian asylum (for consideration for refurbishment into housing). This placement year helped focus my remaining two years of academic study with a strong enthusiasm for structural engineering having had the opportunity to apply my academic skills learnt to date on items that then got built!

2. Advice for women starting out in this field of work?

Be yourself! Don’t be intimidated by people telling you that it’s a male dominated industry—in the 11 plus years I’ve been working since graduation there has already been a strong shift in attitudes, especially on the construction site!

It can be hard work—but rewarding. You have the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects. During my career, I’ve had the chance to develop new homes (from individual houses to tower blocks), schools, refurbishment (including a grade II listed stately home!), retail, offices, youth/community centres, and university buildings. Both inner-city and within the countryside, each project offers new and different challenges...

Kate Ham, Landscape Assistant

1. How and why did you choose your career?

With a background in Art & Design, I made the unusual choice to begin a BSc in Restoration and Conservation at the London School of Furniture. Realising this course wasn’t the right fit, I left in my second year. After a brief stint working as a volunteer in Africa, I decided to pursue my interest in design with a view to working as an interior designer. I got a job in an architect’s office, attending college part-time while completing an HNC in Spatial Design. Whilst working with a Landscape Architect I learnt a little bit about the profession. I had always had a love of plants passed on from my parents and their enthusiasm for the natural world and gardening. From there I applied for a role as a full-time technician, working in a private practice of landscape architects. Here I got a comprehensive education encompassing the varied work covered by landscape architects. Staying with the same company for seven years, working as a senior technician on a mix of design and planning projects. Having been part of the Stantec landscape team from the start, I have developed a strong desire to fulfil my career ambitions and become a fully Chartered member of the Landscape Institute. The straightest path isn’t always the most interesting, life has many twists and turns, so choose the best paths for you.

2. Advice for women starting out in this field of work?

I have found the things that have inspired me the most, to push myself and step out of my comfort zone, are the people I work with on a day-to-day basis. An example might be simply observing a colleague conducting themselves in a manner that you admire and respect, which could help you approach a similar situation in the future. Make connections and friendships with colleagues you find inspiring, ask them for advice and never be afraid of admitting you don’t know something or asking for help. Take every opportunity offered to you. Be encouraging and helpful to your junior colleagues. Remember, we are all part of one big team.

International Women's Day has been celebrated for well over a century. It’s not country, group or organisation specific, so anyone from anywhere can get involved! To find out more, please click here.

Originally published by PBA, now Stantec.

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