Empowering Women in Civil Engineering: Inspiring Journeys from Leading Trailblazers

In celebration of International Women in Engineering Day on June 23rd, we embrace this year’s theme ‘Enhanced by Engineering’ as an opportunity to spotlight the remarkable contributions of our female civil engineers at Woods Hardwick. This annual event recognises the pivotal role of women in engineering and encourages more women to join and excel in the field.

In today’s blog, we feature an in-depth conversation with three valuable members of our outstanding civil engineering team, Elena Martin Lopez, Shavonne Dalton, and Robyn Daniels. Through their journeys, we delve into the crucial role each of them plays in enhancing urban developments and infrastructure projects across the UK.

Offering a glimpse into their careers to date, they each share their unique experiences, career aspirations, lessons learnt and invaluable industry advice, providing inspiration to empower the next generation of female civil engineers.


Career Journey and Inspiration

What does International Women in Engineering Day mean to you?

Elena – It’s a great way to give visibility to women in engineering.

Shavonne – I personally feel that women in engineering shouldn’t be singled out with a dedicated recognition day. Our contributions within the field should be acknowledged on an equal footing with our male counterparts, reflecting true equality in the field.

Robyn – I feel it’s a good way to form a sense of community and bring us all together, as we are a minority in the field.


Can each of you share your journey into civil engineering and what inspired you to pursue this field?

Elena – I did my degree in civil engineering. Being from Spain originally, when I was at college I was still undecided as to what career choice I wanted take, however I made the decision to do a degree in civil engineering when I was at university. When I moved to UK I initially started out as a Quantity Engineer for 5 years, and then after the pandemic I wanted to really focus on what I had studied. I then went on to do my Masters in Structural Materials which then led me to join Woods Hardwick as a Civil Engineer, and I’ve been here for 2 years now.

Shavonne – When I was at school I initially wanted to be an architect as I was interested in art and buildings. I then decided I wanted to do something in construction and so I went to college to undertake a course that covered a bit of everything, architecture, civil engineering, and surveying. I actually hadn’t heard much about civil engineering prior to that, but it was from there that it sparked my interest as it was mostly to do with numbers. Following this, I went on to do a Civil Engineering Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree in Environmental Water Management.

Robyn – I was lucky enough to choose engineering in secondary school which is where I learnt about all the different areas of engineering. I went on to do a construction course at college that covered surveying, civil engineering and architecture, and that’s when I decided civil engineering was the career path for me. I was fortunate enough to get an apprenticeship at Woods Hardwick, and I’ve recently done my EPA for an EngTech in MICE which I am currently awaiting my results.


Are there any particular skills or qualities you believe are essential for success in this field?

Elena – As things are always changing in the field of engineering, it’s important to keep up to date with research. Also thinking outside of the box is key, looking into creative alternative solutions.

Shavonne – I agree with Elena, civil engineering is always changing and developing so I do think you need to want to keep learning so that you are up to date with the latest standards. Additionally, organisation and problem-solving skills would also be of benefit, as well as being maths orientated.

Robyn – Problem solving skills is definitely key, but also having an alternative perspective to challenges will also help.


Why do you feel female talent is crucial to the industry?

Elena – Not just aimed at specifically females, but having a diverse mix of people working in engineering will bring a variety of perspectives and different approaches.

Shavonne – I personally think both men and women need to bring the same talents and skillsets to the industry.

Robyn – It’s not just female talent that’s crucial, it’s important to have a diverse mix of talents from all backgrounds to contribute to the industry.


What professional growth have you experienced throughout your career so far?

Elena – In the last 2 years of working at Woods Hardwick they have been extremely supportive with my career, and have recognised my growth with a promotion, encouraging me to move up the ladder.

Shavonne – When I started my career in civil engineering 8 years ago, I was initially working for a smaller company working on smaller projects of around 20 houses. Working at Woods Hardwick my experience has grown considerably, and I am now working on much larger projects of up to 600 houses, which has been great.

Robyn – When I started as an apprentice, I had little knowledge about civil engineering but as my skills have broadened in the last 2 years  with a greater knowledge of using CAD allowing me to read and understand drawings significantly  better.


What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?

Elena – The support of the company has been really important to me. At Woods Hardwick if you do your job well and want to learn, you have the opportunity to grow. There is a real willingness to help you achieve your career goals here.

Shavonne – I agree a lot with Elena. Since moving to Woods Hardwick the level of support I receive has really helped increase my confidence. It’s been really important for me to be recognised and acknowledged as a good civil engineer, and this has definitely reinforced why I wanted to go down this career path.

Robyn – Securing my apprenticeship after working hard at college has been really rewarding for me so far, but also achieving good grades throughout my apprenticeship which has led me to where I am now.


What are some of the most important things you have learnt during your career to date in civil engineering?

Elena – Working with other civil engineers within Woods Hardwick has been a great opportunity for me to listen and learn from others, and also being able to share my knowledge with them.

Shavonne – One of the main things is learning about and designing SuDS (stainable drainage systems). As we are looking towards the future, climate change is a much bigger topic. Being able to design sites that are sustainable, not just from climate change perspective, but also the impact it has on the wider environment and water quality. A lot of what I have studied to date has allowed me to synergise my learnings into what I do on a day to day.

Robyn – It’s been great to learn from the other divisions at Woods Hardwick, and also how we communicate with not only each other, but also with our clients, councils and other stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle.


What have been some key milestones or significant projects in your career so far, and what have you learned from them?

Elena – A significant project that stands out is a recent project in Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire, which will deliver c.500 dwellings, three attenuation basins, a primary school, community centre and new sports pitches. There are two clients on the same site, so it was particularly important that we, as a team, effectively met requirements for them both.

Shavonne – One of my biggest milestones was moving company to Woods Hardwick. A lot of the previous projects I had worked on were a lot smaller, and now being here I have been able to grow so much more with not only my knowledge but also my confidence as well. In terms of projects, the key one that sticks out is a site in Chelmsford that we’re designing the main infrastructure for, as opposed to just individual plots. It’s an exemplar scheme that will deliver 1,500 homes and is really focused on sustainability. The site itself includes five ponds, rain gardens, swales and a range of different sustainable drainage systems which are incorporated into the open spaces. The scheme promotes sustainable travel as well, and encourages pedestrians and cyclists as opposed to cars. It’s been a really interesting project to work on.

Robyn – I am currently working towards starting university that will allow me to transition from an apprentice to an Engineering Technician, giving me the independence to start drawing from scratch which I’m really looking forward to.


How do you feel the industry supports young women entering and working in the field of civil engineering?

Elena – Not just focused towards young women, but I feel that learning about civil engineering when you’re at school is really important, so that children are aware of the role from an early age and can consider it as a career option.

Shavonne – For me, when I was at college and university there was a lot of support for female engineers and I was encouraged to join the courses by being guaranteed a space no matter how I did academically. Whilst this is good for getting women onto the course, it was really important for me that my hard work to achieve good grades was not undermined in order to achieve the equality agenda for more females to study the field.

Robyn – I think social media has been a great way to increase exposure of networking events for women, as well as showcasing more apprenticeship opportunities for both men and women.


Role Models and Mentorship

Did you have any role models or mentors who significantly influenced your career? How did they help you?

Elena – When I was living in Spain, I had a teacher at university that thought outside of the box when it came to solutions. As we don’t have any rivers, finding ways to harvest water was crucial and he was able to take ideas from the UK and adapt them to work in the Spanish environment, which was extremely inspiring.

Shavonne – I wouldn’t say I have a specific role model as such however I do really look up to the senior team at Woods Hardwick, as they are extremely knowledgeable. My aspiration is continue learning and get better at what I do, so they have been a key driver for me to progress further in my career.

Robyn – My engineering teacher at secondary school was extremely engaging with the students and I really enjoyed her classes, and she pushed me to do really well – I do feel we need more teachers like that. Elena is also a role model for me as she is where I would like to be in a couple of years’ time.


Industry Challenges

EngineeringUK recently reported that only 16.5% of engineers are women. What do you think the industry could do to encourage more women/more people into engineering roles?

Elena – The earlier you can educate children about engineering the more you will encourage them to consider the role.

Shavonne – I agree, I wanted to be an architect initially and was inspired by Grand Designs, but had little knowledge about what really happens behind the scenes of a build. No one talked about engineering when I was at school, it was only when I went to college that those doors were opened, so career days for all will also be really important.

Robyn – I agree, I think the education system needs to increase its awareness of non-traditional careers and should even be included in primary schools, showcasing the fun and creative side of the industry.


What challenges have you personally faced as a woman in civil engineering, and how have you overcome them?

Elena – Not many really, although when I worked for a previous employer I was the first female that had joined the company, so it was a significant moment for diversity in the workplace.

Shavonne – I’ve never had any issues or any negative experiences which I find really refreshing to tell people outside of the industry, as they often think it’s a sexist culture which it really isn’t.

Robyn – As I was the only girl within my class at college, sometimes there was a bit of sexist banter, which was unfortunate but as I have transitioned into a working world I haven’t experienced anything at all.


Future Aspirations

What are your short-term and long-term career goals in civil engineering?

Elena – Short-term, being involved in more projects that I am able to manage, and long-term I would like to progress into a more senior position.

Shavonne – Short-term my focus is to get what is in front of me done, and long-term my aspiration is to continue growing into a senior role and eventually I would like to become an Associate Director.

Robyn – Short-term I want to do well at university, with a long-term goal of being a successful engineer with a good work-life balance.


Advice for Aspiring Civil Engineers

What advice would you give to women who are considering a career in civil engineering?

Elena – Just do it!

Shavonne – I agree, it’s a really rewarding job, especially if you have a passion for specific aspects of engineering. Just stick with it.

Robyn – I would definitely recommend going down an apprenticeship route as it enhances your experience and confidence, as well as earning a salary.


If you’re considering a career in Civil Engineering we would love to hear from you, or should you need support with an upcoming project please get in touch.