As my 33rd birthday approached last month I looked at all the disparate elements of my life and wondered what the future held. This hadn't really happened before, but something about the number 33 got me thinking. Shortly after my birthday I was shortlisted for a Woman of the Future award in association with Shell, which led to me writing this post.
I've been involved in engineering for 16 years through school, university and now as an Associate at Arup. This is an important part of my life, and is especially exciting as we enter what the BBC calls engineering's golden age. I can now see the various strands of my personal interests and professional life starting to coalesce: being an engineer, being a woman, being passionate about design and wanting to make things better.
What excites me is the idea that mixed gender leadership, a new respect for engineering, and educated, satisfied people can start to make a serious difference to both the developed and developing world. The most rewarding experiences of my life combine these things, and include designing a Kindergarten for rural Ghana as part of a truly collaborative team and developing a masterplan that improves the climate for urban living in Doha (which just won a Future Project of the year award).
I see Sustainable Development as the product of efficient, functional design which considers all of its impacts and capitalizes on opportunities. It's a recurrent theme in what I do, but is not a blind aim. It's really important to distinguish Sustainable Development from the concept of being 'sustainable', a word which applies as much to a profitable arms business as it does to recycling paper.
I'm proud to be shortlisted as a 'Woman of the Future'. Awards for women are useful on a personal level as they provide support and inspiration. They are also useful on a global level because the greater female participation and resulting gender diversity they encourage is beneficial for us all. I believe this benefit derives from an approach to decision-making and leadership which tends to be more prevalent in women than in men, a topic summarized well by the European commission in 2012 and also McKinsey in its Women Matter series.
For me, one key element of this approach includes a greater emphasis on collaboration and the different measures of success that go with this. In a collaboration, success is measured by the success of the product not the individual, which I believe to be ultimately more rewarding, more sustainable (the dictionary meaning) and more efficient. People working collaboratively share information, are nicer to each other and are probably happier. A frustrating characteristic of the construction industry is that many new buildings are new prototypes with newly formed teams not bringing the full weight of the industry's lessons learnt in past projects to the table. This doesn't make sense or encourage progress!
Another key element of a "more female" approach is a wider concept of value. Decisions based solely on the bottom line don't always lead to the most financially sustainable ends. Value needs to be considered much more widely; in terms of relationships, job satisfaction, education, experience. These wider considerations can lead to huge financial gains, for example through driving competitive advantage and creating new opportunities.
I think engineering needs more leadership like this and the UK needs more engineers leading it. I want to be a part of this, and awards for women can help me do this now. What we have to remember is that these awards will only be truly successful when they no longer need to exist.