International Women in Engineering Day 2017 – Meet Claire Greenwood, smashing glass ceilings and doing what she loves
Communications Manager, Greenford Ltd.
At a time when less than one in ten science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industry managers presently active in the UK are women(1) Claire Greenwood still believes the key to success is education, hard work and a passion for the industry. To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) Friday 23rd June 2017, we are looking into the journey and motivation behind a woman that has thrived in a traditionally male industry.
Growing up in suburban Bradford in the 1980s, Claire can remember the exact moment she knew she wanted to be an engineer. “I had always liked solving puzzles and building things as a child but one day when I saw a female engineer on the local news being interviewed about constructing bridges on the M62, I knew that would be the ideal job for me.” With this clarity of purpose, Claire studied hard, graduating with Honours with a Bachelor of Engineering from Coventry University, then pursued her first engineering job in 1998 at Mowlem Southern Civil Engineering as a Graduate Engineer.
Since then Claire’s career has gone from strength to strength and encompassed prominent engineering organisations like Mowlem and Bam Nuttall, and included managing influential, large-scale projects such as the construction of the North Olympic Park as well as a £100m re-signalling scheme for Network Rail before going on to become the first female Managing Director of Oxfordshire based civil engineering firm Greenford Ltd in January 2017. Aside from professional success, Claire has also dedicated a large portion of her private life to the promotion of civil engineering both amongst the wider community in general and with women in particular to highlight the industry as an exciting and rewarding career option which women should view as one of their many career choices. “In my years so far working with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) both as a Regional Chairman and a Fellow of the Institute, I like to think I have worked on the promotion of the engineering community to all as well as specifically targeting the female population. I believe that if other women and girls can see that this is a career a woman can have and thrive in, then this may inspire them to follow that path. I think it is also important that we have role models from all the various disciplines within the civil engineering spectrum to show what a diverse and varied career you can have or aspire to; technical complex design, project management, highways engineering, construction, specialising in ground engineering or being a generalist and having a broader overview.”
While there have been challenges along the way, overall Claire does not find the day to day life of a woman in engineering as a difficult one. “The ladies that have gone before me have carved and pioneered their way through in order to make it much easier for my generation and those to come. It is important to honour their legacy in ensuring we carry this on with the same integrity and respect. I did feel that I had to prove myself in my early career and work hard to show I was just as good, if not better, than my male counterparts. However, on the whole, my male colleagues, team members and counterparts have been welcoming and respectful.”
The sub-theme of this year’s INWED is ‘Men As Allies’. The idea behind which is to take a moment to recognise and celebrate those men who have visibly demonstrated their support for diversity in engineering, an idea which Claire is completely behind, “I am a huge advocate of our male colleagues as our allies! We shouldn’t be alienating any one person or group, as we know that team work is the best way to achieve a better and greater outcome. We also should not be making anyone feel uncomfortable when they come to university or work. I am not a fan of fast track progression based on gender, I want to be where I am or achieving my next promotion because I have earned it, just as any of my male colleagues would have done, not because I have had specialist treatment. I think this undermines all of the hard work, determination and the legacy of the female engineers before us.
“I have had many male role models who have inspired me along the way, firstly my dad who made me believe anything was possible to achieve, even if I you did not succeed at first, you can always find a way. Also, the first director I worked for in my early career, Peter Watts (Mowlem) who guided me in my first few years, and, more latterly, Adrian Coy (Aecom) and his inspirational way of embracing diversity and inclusion at every level of the civil engineering community.”
Claire believes women should actively consider engineering as an exciting and varied career for those who are driven by a passion for the industry and are willing to work hard. “If you want a diverse career, where you can influence the daily lives of people, then this would be it. You can be part of it at any level, and enjoy it. You can travel if you want to, or work locally. The spectrum of disciplines within civil engineering, means that no two days are quite the same, and you have the potential to make a huge impact on the world, for example the way we travel, how we work, where we work, providing amenities to those that take it for granted, or drinking water to people for the first time. The world is open to you and your gender does not define who you are or what you are capable of!”
It is the hope that as long as there are strong, prominent, female role models within the engineering community there will be an increasing sense of normalcy surrounding women in the industry. Girls and women considering a career in engineering will only be swayed through consideration of what the industry may offer them in terms of professional fulfilment rather than gender equality challenges to be overcome. A sentiment Claire echoes in her ultimate hopes for the future of women in engineering around the world.
“My hope is that we get to a point where we do not need to talk about encouraging women in engineering, because you look around the room that you are in and the split between male and female is 50:50. We will only be talking about promoting the engineering industry and inspiring people, instead of particular genders, to become engineers.”