Melanie Ogden, Project Manager on the Northern Line Extension Project at Transport for London (TfL), is a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and was an apprentice with past ICE president Geoff French from 2013-2014. She has since been an ambassador for women in transport and engineering, having also won the WeAreTheCity Rising Star Award in the Technology category.
Melanie was one of a number of high profile Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) members who took part in a new film, Engineering Change, launched on 12th November 2015 to instigate an “open, candid discussion” across the engineering industry about why it fails to attract a wider pool of creative talent, particularly women. While female applications to ICE are slowly rising, with graduate numbers at 18%, women still only represent 10% of ICE’s total membership and the figure is consistent across the wider engineering community.
Taking part in the film, Engineering Change
The film, Engineering Change, is about kicking off a really a candid and open discussion about the challenges which women face in our industry. It’s also a bit of a call to action for senior managers to see what they’re doing about gender diversity in their teams.
It’s all about raising visibility of the different types of careers in engineering and the opportunities that women have in the industry. It’s really important that we widen the pool of engineers. The membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers is only 10% women, and we see really low figures for women across all engineering disciplines in this country. It’s hard to make a diverse team when you have so few female engineers to choose from.
Civil engineering is all around you
Civil engineering is quite difficult to explain, and that is partly the problem. A lot of children know immediately about certain careers, but not engineering. Civil engineering is basically designing, creating and maintaining the built environment. You’re affecting society and everything around you.
Really, if you go back to its absolute roots, it is civilian engineering – engineering for the civilians – so you’re building things like hospitals, roads, airports, tunnels, railways – everything that affects day to day civilian life. The way I describe it when I talk to children is: “Look around you, a civil engineer has probably had a hand in building most of what you see”.
“I designed that.” Why working in transport and infrastructure is so rewarding
Transport is just the most fantastic sector to work in. I’m so happy that I ended up coming into this sector after finishing my degree in civil engineering. The reason why it’s so rewarding is because transport is so tangible – something that’s right in front of you. If you build a new railway, the railway is then there – you can ride on that railway, you can take your friends on it, you can say that you were part of building it.
If you build a new bridge, you can say, “That was a bridge that I was involved in. I designed that.” That’s the great thing about being in transport – you’re actually affecting society in a positive way. You’re allowing people to get from A to B much quicker. You’re allowing things to be more accessible for people and you’re improving the society that you live in.
I absolutely love my role at Transport for London because I live in London and I work in London. When I build a new railway it benefits me, my friends, my family, my whole community, and that’s why I think it’s such a rewarding career over other careers, because it’s something that is right in front of you.
Membership of ICE – feeling included and part of something is so important
I originally became a student member of the ICE whilst I was at university – it’s free to all students and I’d really encourage students to get involved with the institution as early as possible. I then became a graduate member after graduating and this really helped me build my professional network of civil engineers. It helped me attend events and seminars and unlock the rich knowledge network that exists within the ICE.
It also made me feel included and part of something, and it gave me an additional support network alongside work which I think you need, particularly when you come out of university and move to a new city like I did. It’s important that you can build friendship groups and particularly when you go forward for your chartership, you have this incredible network of people who are there supporting you, helping you, and doing mock interviews with you. It’s just so important.
Being part of an institution is key to your career. It’s just slightly removed from work, which I think is good because you can share your opinions, you can be much more open with debate and discussion. I think that’s something really exciting.
I work in transport, but being part of the institution also allows me to hear about all the other part of civil engineering. That’s the great thing about being a civil engineer – I can very easily move around within the civil engineering industry. I don’t have to stick with transport, but I absolutely love it.
The importance of strong female role models
One of the things that’s so important to me is having someone to look up to and aspire to be like in the future. In Transport for London, Michèle Dix is the only female managing director and I really look up to her. I want to be in the position that she’s in one day, so for me it’s so important to see females in those senior roles – how else are young women ever going to be able to see themselves there if they can’t see anyone there at the moment?
People like Michèle who have really trail-blazed through the industry in a time when it was probably ten times harder to be a female in a male-dominated environment are key – there were probably ten times less females around her and in her team – she’s got right to the top as managing director and I think that’s incredible. That’s why I aspire to be like her and that’s why she inspires me.
She’s also had a family along the way and she’s been able to balance lots of things throughout her life. Young girls in particular need to understand that going into engineering does not stop you having a life outside of work. That’s what Michèle makes me believe.
Plugging the skills gap
If you take a completely different career path, it is hard to work your way back into engineering once you’ve done your degree, or even done your A-levels. As more women become interested in civil engineering, and the stereotypes are challenged, we should find a way for where women who have chosen a different career, to make a career change into engineering.
To be a Chartered Civil Engineer obviously there are quite specific criteria – and that’s a good thing because it’s a valuable, difficult professional qualification, and it makes you feel very proud to get it – but I do think we need to think more about how we can get women into the engineering sector if they haven’t selected it as their initial career choice.
Moving forward – joining the ICE Inspiration Panel
I absolutely love the ICE and I’ve been very involved with it since graduating. I was a President’s Apprentice, which was an amazing year shadowing the President. I’ve been involved in numerous committees and I’m fortunate that I’ve just been asked to join another group at the ICE – the new Inspiration Committee, working to inspire anyone up to the age of 18 to choose a career in engineering.
Inspiring the next generation is exciting. How can we get people on to apprenticeships? How can we get people studying the ‘right’ A-levels in Maths, and going forward to university or into jobs in our industry.
On top of this I have the role of project manager on the Northern Line extension at TfL. It’s something that I’m very enthusiastic about. The Northern Line is being extended from Kennington to Battersea. It’s being extended into the London Borough that I live in, Wandsworth, so that’s such a wonderful project for me to be part of. I see myself on this project for the next five years really taking some big steps in my career.
I recently became Chartered, so that was a big milestone and a fantastic thing to achieve at the start of this project, but we’ve got a long road ahead of us. We’re building a new railway extension here, something that doesn’t happen often, and it’s quite something to be part of.
I hope by the end of this project that first of all, I will have gained a lot of new knowledge in a new sector, especially in building extensions to railways, and also that maybe I will have progressed to a more senior position. I do aspire by the end of it to be one role up from where I am. That’s achievable and I look forward to seeing where the next five years take me.