Rachel Morris is a Project Engineer at Laing O’Rourke. She has had a diverse career since graduating from Leeds University in 1996 working in demolition, tunnelling, stations, bridges, Grade II listed structures, new office and residential buildings.
“…I have always had strong female role models in my family – none working in construction, but many who maintained their careers juggling motherhood so it didn’t cross my mind that it wouldn’t or couldn’t be possible…”
Getting into civil engineering and construction
I fell into engineering almost by accident. I have always been a city girl and loved the built environment. I discovered that although I was passionate about architecture my skills were better suited to figuring out how ground breaking structures could be built, realising the architects aspirations.
It is a very tangible profession. It is incredibly rewarding to always see the results of your labour in a finished structure. There is a real sense of personal achievement, plus also making improvements to the built environment that we can all enjoy.
Working flexibly for Laing O’Rourke
I had my first of three children in 2003. I have always had strong female role models in my family – none working in construction, but many who maintained their careers juggling motherhood so it didn’t cross my mind that it wouldn’t or couldn’t be possible. I didn’t really think about how radical it would be in construction, but I returned to work three days a week carrying out progressively more technical and challenging roles.
I returned to work in a role that was within my comfort zone, so my main technical challenge was the morning logistics. I could still deliver a vital project support role, but I was confident that I could do this role.
Naturally as I adjusted to my new work pattern, my role developed and I was confident in taking on more challenging work. Since starting flexible working I have kept meticulous records of my deliverables, so it is clear what I deliver to the project team each week.
I only increased to four days (three and a half in the office, the other half day remote) in November when my youngest started school. After six months I am still getting used to it. School holidays are utter chaos and I am slightly dreading the summer, but as I have found since I first went on maternity leave, the worrying is consistently worse than the reality.
Real energy behind flexible working
I sense a real energy behind flexible working. I firmly believe that it should be as acceptable for men as it is for women.
What I have found is that people think it’s culturally unacceptable, so they don’t ask. Recruitment companies don’t offer it, so possible employees again don’t ask, but surely with demand outstripping supply of engineers, now’s the time to look at how you want to work rather than how work is currently done.
The fact is that it will probably impact your salary and may slow your promotion, but the last ten years have been a joyful combination of school runs, temporary works discussions, cardboard box costumes and vast concrete pours. No two days are the same, and certainly none are predictable.
Advice for women and girls considering a career in engineering
The first difficulty is women and girls actually considering a career in engineering. What I would say it that there many career paths within the engineering profession. It is unlikely that you may be considering any work pattern, but if you do, anything is possible. The same goes for men and boys!
Giving female engineers a voice
The Women’s Engineering Society (WES) is carrying out invaluable work in giving female engineers a voice. I may be the exception to prove the rule, but I am pretty shy when it comes to talking about what I do, but WES has helped me reach a much wider audience as I look to advise and help more people find out about flexible working most importantly, how to make it work.
Career plans moving forward
My reason for moving up to four days was to give me more time within the working week to engage in ‘mentoring’ and career development. In addition, I also want to step on the gas and progress my career a little now the children are at school.
It is time to be brave and stick my head above the parapet so anyone thinking about what they want to do with their lives can see what an exacting, fun, frustrating, challenging and flexible career you can have in civil engineering.