Natalie Clemson: Career beginnings and INWED

29 June, 2020

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IN celebration of International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) last week, director Natalie Clemson joined five other female engineers on the panel of CC Live’s INWED special.

Now in its seventh year, INWED looks to raise the profile of women in engineering and focuses attention on the amazing career opportunities available to females within the industry. Due to COVID-19, this year’s celebrations took place virtually and urged people to support the campaign and #ShapeTheWorld.

Natalie discussed how she initially became interested in pursuing a career in engineering during her school days and subsequently went on to complete a five-year civil engineering degree at the University of Bath.

Talking about what led her to studying civil engineering and the opportunities her studies gave her, Natalie said: “I always knew that I wanted to go to university, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study. It was a case of deciding whether I wanted to do maths or look at more of a career-based degree and I ended up deciding on the latter.

“I initially looked into studying architecture but quickly decided that I had much more passion for the maths side of things. I decided to look into engineering and that’s when I first came across civil engineering as an industry. It was the broad range of specialisms that you can go into with civil engineering that really appealed to me – there is a multitude of areas you can work within, with bridge and road, maritime, and municipal engineering just a few to name.

“My five-year degree was via a joint school of architecture and engineering and allowed me to do two work placements during my studies. For my first placement I was working on a construction site for a sewage treatment works, which brilliant experience and allowed me to see and appreciate how things are built. It’s something that stayed with me personally and has helped me throughout my career in terms of designing.

 “My second placement needed to be in a design office, and one of the contacts I made during my first placement recommended I try Pick Everard. I contacted the team requesting the opportunity to do my placement within and – after a tour from one of the partners themselves – I was sold. The rest is history – I joined the team as a graduate in 2006, have worked my way up to director and am now in charge of the highways and infrastructure team.”

With this year’s INWED theme being ‘Shape the World’, Natalie also commented on how the roles of women within the industry can have changed over recent years: “I think the attitudes have definitely changed towards women in the industry. For example, things like casual sexism in the workplace and on construction sites is far less tolerated now. We are also seeing more women on construction sites now – when I worked on the sewage treatment works site, I struggled to get PPE in women’s sizes. We had to order my size in specially and it took several weeks for them to arrive.

“Generally speaking, society has become a lot more equal and attitudes have shifted when it comes to the ‘traditional roles of women’. I think this is something that filters through and plays a big part in changing how women are viewed in the workplace as a whole, and within engineering spheres.

“Another thing is that the industry as a whole is becoming much more active in promoting the opportunities of engineering to girls from an early age. STEM activities are really important in this, and in my roles as a STEM ambassador I’ve been working with schools and students over a number of years to help make sure that girls know that engineering is for them as much as the boys. It’s also really important to help educate parents as well – they will be just as crucial in helping break down gender stereotypes attached to careers.

“It’s also really important to share that the traditional university route is not the only way into engineering, so it’s still a very viable career path even if you don’t attend university, or look at a career change later on in life. There are several levels of membership to bodies such as the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE), for example there is a shortage of technician engineers at the moment.

“Over the last ten to 15 years we have seen an increase in the number of women coming through university and into engineering roles, something I’m really pleased about and hope to see continue over the coming years as well.”

The episode also saw a live Q&A take place, with viewers putting compelling questions to Natalie and other panellists. When asked about what women can bring to the industry, as well as what can be done to break down barriers and improve retention of female engineers, Natalie said:

“Women can bring a more empathetic approach to our industry, and naturally have a different skillset to men – for example, women make great leaders thanks to the empathy. When it comes to keeping the great women we already have, family will always play a part.

“As well as making sure that women have the flexibility needed to be a working mother, it’s really important that we afford the same parental flexibility opportunities to men as well – especially as traditional gender roles in society are continuing to change as we’ve already mentioned.

Natalie was joined by Anna Tsartsari of BE Design, Alison Horton of Curtins, Daphne Thissen of Thissen Consulting and Laura Dance and Husna Gul of Dice Consulting. To watch the episode back, visit https://youtu.be/_Yu83md6kLM.

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