Kate Castle, Bridge Programme Manager at the Rochester Bridge Trust, looks at how a diversity of personal experience affects engineering decisions.
Engineering impacts the lives of everyone, ranging from the smallest electronic devices to the biggest architectural structures. Every element is designed by a person with their own lived experience. Which will affect their engineering decisions.
For example, are your hands large enough to easily hold and use a full-sized smart phone? Is your eyesight clear enough to pick out the trip hazard of a raised paving stone? Are you strong enough to stand up from a chair without the use of supports? Are you small enough to fit into the seating space for economy travel? There are endless questions that can be asked when drawing up engineering plans, but if we only have one viewpoint when designing, investigating and managing engineering projects we will not be able to explore all the possible solutions – meaning we might not get the best design.
One example personal to me from a previous engineering role is that before I became a mum I would always try to consider a footway or crossing from the view of a parent. However, until I personally was pushing a pram I did not fully understand the impact of a narrow footway.
To ensure individual lived experience is utilised in engineering, it’s vital we have a diverse workforce that can share its knowledge in an environment of mutual respect. Trusting in yourself and your understanding are key to being a good engineer, as is having the confidence to respectfully question yourself and your colleagues. Working to a solution together will result in a much better outcome in the long run but it relies on each individual having the confidence to put forward their own ideas – irrespective of whether or not they look like the stereotype of an engineer.
As with life experience, training and career progression can be equally diverse. I chose to study maths, physics and design technology (technology) at A-levels, which gave me a good grounding before I went on to study civil engineering at university.
When I became a graduate engineer I started out doing a lot of AutoCAD work, measuring on site and working on highway improvement schemes. I also learned a lot in my client role as a graduate for Transport for London, before moving to a consultancy, where I worked on a number of design projects. I then became a Road Safety Auditor and a project manager, and over time I have moved more towards Project and Contract Management for engineering projects.
From my experience I’ve learned that it’s good to try out new skills and fields within your discipline. This has allowed me to find new challenges that I’ve enjoyed. It’s also enabled me to discover there are things I don’t like – and that’s okay too because it’s all important for shaping your career.
If I have one piece of advice for a young engineer starting out in the profession it’s to believe in yourself – or learn to do so – it’s an easy thing to say but can take time to achieve.
Finally, my advice for anyone who wants to be a diversity ally is to remember that we are all engineers. Yes, it is important to highlight that there are female engineers, minority ethnic engineers, transgender engineers, young engineers, disabled engineers, pregnant engineers, married engineers, religious engineers, gay engineers and all the many other identities that make us who we are, but it’s also important to treat us all as equally as we are: We are all engineers.