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Civil and structural engineering firm, Sutcliffe, has grown its headcount further throughout the first month of 2023, welcoming a female Chartered Structural Engineer, Kate Watson, as executive associate to the company.

With over 15 years of experience as a structural engineer, Kate has previously worked for a number of high-profile firms in London, specialising in the residential sector and leading large structural and civil project teams along the way.

Bringing a wealth of knowledge to Sutcliffe’s HQ in Liverpool, Kate will be working with senior managers on a number of multi-million pound projects including Countess of Chester Hospital, Haywood Civic Centre and Touchstones Grade II refurbishment, as well as helping to oversee the development of the apprentices and mentor younger members of the team.

We sat down with Kate to discuss this new chapter in her career, as well as discussing her experiences as a female chartered engineer who is navigating a heavily male-dominated industry. 

Firstly, we asked Kate how her career in engineering first began.

I always liked maths and physics at school, but wasn’t compelled to studying either at university. A career advisor suggested I look into engineering so I did a placement at a civil engineering consultancy. I was drawn to the real-world impact that engineers can have, getting to use maths and physics to make a tangible difference to people’s surroundings and environment.”

Although the engineering industry is predominantly male, new analysis shows a gradual increase in women, as they currently make up 16.5% of all engineers in the UK compared to 10.5% in 2010.

With this growth in mind, Kate discusses her thoughts on how inclusive she feels the industry is today sharing her expert opinion on what it can do to appeal to more women.

“It’s definitely getting better, but there is clearly more to be done. Perception of the industry is perhaps misconstrued – engineering is a much broader field than many people realise. It’s not all being outdoors in a muddy field or dusty site, or sitting behind a computer performing complex analysis. 

A huge part of my job requires a softer skill set – communication is key, being able to liaise with clients and design teams, managing a team of engineers and technicians, as well as the creativity that is needed for problem solving. These softer skills can be harder to come by in the industry, and this kind of role may appeal to women who hadn’t otherwise considered engineering as a career.”

In terms of the challenges that women face within the engineering sector, Kate shares her thoughts on the unconscious bias that lingers within the industry, sharing her own experiences of inequality and how she has previously tackled these situations.

There is still an unconscious bias which is lingering, but I have to say I have seen a big improvement in the 20 years that I’ve been in the industry. 

During my career I’ve been told that I’ll have to work harder to prove myself ‘as a woman’; and upon answering the phone to respond to a technical question have been told ‘no I asked to speak to the engineer, put me through to him’…  but these instances are the exception. I find that being politely assertive, and doing a good job is the best comeback on a personal level.

One of the biggest challenges women across all sectors face is starting a family. Thanks to my husband requesting shared parental leave I was able to return to work after maternity leave without putting our child into nursery before we were ready. To enable women to succeed in the workplace it’s so important that workplace policies allow men to share in the responsibilities of child-rearing.”

Managing Director, Sean Keyes, shares his thoughts on the importance of having a diverse workforce:

“Huge advocates of equality and diversity in the workplace, Sutcliffe has a long and proud history of working with and unearthing the best female talent in the sector. With Kate bringing years of experience and on-site skill to the team, I have no doubt that she will help take us to the next level, as well as act as a role model for the females and males within the office and the industry.

With approximately just over 16% of the engineering sector made up of females in 2022, we need to continue to push female inclusion in the sector and that must begin in early years education.

From a commercial and a social perspective, having more strong women in the sector can only be a good thing, especially as we want our industry to truly reflect the environment that we live in.”

At Sutcliffe, we are pleased to hold the ‘Aspiring Level’ in the Liverpool City Region Fair Employment Charter. Through achieving this status, we are proven to be an organisation dedicated to creating a safe and inclusive work environment for all employees as well as supporting our staff to grow and develop. 

Our Diversity and Equality Policy also works to promote positive attitudes and respect within the workplace, developing employees’ understanding of discrimination and how to be more inclusive. This policy is concerned with recognising and valuing the differences and ensuring we positively respond to meet the needs of all our staff and continually improving the work we do. 

As we look to the future with a positive outlook, Kate shares her hopes for the future of engineering:

“We are at a very important time right now, with the technological leaps that have been made in recent years, as well as the increasing threat of the climate crisis. As engineers we have the power to alter the impact on our world and environment, to drive forward new sustainable technology and methods of construction. 

This will no doubt appeal to many young people considering a career in engineering, both male and female. We, as an industry, just need to keep working to make sure that any barriers are taken down so that we attract the best people to the field.”

Finally, Kate shares her advice to young women who are looking to start a career in engineering:

“Go for it! It’s a fulfilling job where no two days are the same, and the opportunity is there to make a real difference in the world. We’ve come a long way in terms of gender equality, thanks to our predecessors going against the grain and calling out inequality. I believe it is my responsibility to support other women in the industry, and to be vocal if I see inequality, and I would encourage the next generation to continue to do so.”  

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