Working as a female in a profession that is predominantly male has its challenges.
Growing up, girls are encouraged to be good, quiet, and gentle - qualities that do not sell well in professional life, and certainly not in engineering. Fortunately for me, I have an older brother. He and his friends taught me the importance of being able to hold my own, and I grew up loud and feisty.
I believe men and women in engineering are, as in all things, equal. We bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table, and together we make a more balanced team. I can’t help but feel, however, that we still have some way to go in terms of achieving equality in the workplace when a male engineer, who is demanding in his approach to work, is described as being "good at his job", while a female engineer who knows what she expects from her team is called "bossy".
In the past, I’ve noticed male colleagues trying to second guess some of my decisions, and I’ve felt the pressure to continually prove my credentials in terms of my knowledge and experience. Things are definitely improving, however, with more women entering the profession and greater discussion around equal pay and promotional opportunities in society in general.
I enjoy my job as an engineer immensely. Like many civil engineers, I am a natural problem-solver - I like to find solutions to complex problems and implement them. I also enjoy collaborating with other professionals - colleagues, clients and contractors - to deliver new transport infrastructure when it is needed, and to see the final result from our efforts is so rewarding!
Balancing my role as an engineer with that of wife, mother, daughter and friend is difficult. I have moments when I feel extremely selfish because I have chosen to work rather than look after my family full-time. I have two children – one in crèche and one in school – and on my way home from a tough day of solving project issues, I sometimes ask myself if it is all worth it.
Strange as this may sound, I think it is good for my children to see that I have a career. Even though they are still very young, they understand that I have responsibilities and commitments, and that punctuality is important to me. They also know that my job as a mother involves more than looking after them, cooking and cleaning.
My own mother is proud of my achievements. When I feel guilty for not calling her as often as she would like, she says: ‘’you are doing well, you are leading by example’’ and as a good daughter I always listen to my mommy.
My husband has been a huge support to me in terms of my career development, even when it involves making sacrifices himself. He is an engineer himself and works full-time, so he understands the difficulty of balancing work and family responsibilities. While it may not always be his first choice, he is happy to share the tasks of cooking dinner, bringing the children to after-school activities and remembering to buy birthday cards.
Over the years, I have met several female engineers who inspire me, including Brigette Rea, senior executive engineer in Kildare County Council, with whom I am currently working on the Maynooth Eastern Ring Road scheme. Professional, knowledgeable and well-respected - and a wife and mother - I often think of her when I am struggling, and I ask myself what would she do in the same situation. One day, I hope young female engineers will think of me in the same way.