International Women’s Day 2024

At SMEC, we’re fortunate to have exceptional young women choose to start their careers in the infrastructure and energy industry with us. These women bring incredible insights and perspectives, a passion for developing their technical skills and have a burning determination to make a real impact on the world.

We know that their journey, even for undergraduates and graduates, isn’t always an easy one. They’re stepping into an industry that is traditionally male-dominated, with stereotypical expectations of who an engineer or technical specialist is, and while much has changed, many of these young professionals are still facing challenges.

As an industry, we need more women to feel like they belong, and to develop long and fulfilling careers in engineering and technical services. We value diversity of thought and experience; it makes our projects more innovative, our businesses more successful and helps to create a more gender equitable world. An example of this is how women can contribute to more equitable infrastructure design.

This International Women’s Day, we wanted to hear from the young women who have chosen a career in engineering. Why are they joining the infrastructure industry? What has their experience been so far, and what challenges have they faced?

It’s only by seeking out experiences of others and then actively listening to women and accepting and understanding their needs, that we can appropriately #InvestInWomen who are integral to the future of our industry.


Passion, diversity, and a love for rocks


Our undergraduate and graduate female engineers are driven by a deep passion for their work and chosen field. They were led to engineering because of their curiosity, their love of problem solving and innovation, and they are drawn to opportunities and projects that provide meaningful impacts on society.

“I enjoy the diverse impact of engineering – being able to contribute to luxurious developments that would boost tourism and economic growth but also the opportunity to provide simple water, sewer or road infrastructure that enables people in a developing country to have access to services that are not as common as you would think. I realised our industry needs more people who do not only place emphasis on the great engineering feats of the world but also the basic, simple infrastructure that allows people to maintain human dignity.”
———— Shivani Govender, Graduate Engineer – Urban Development, South Africa

“I find it fulfilling working with earth materials and am fascinated with the brilliant solutions engineers come up with to make the ground we live on a safe place to build infrastructure and improve lives.” – Yee Ping Goh, Undergraduate Engineer – Geotechnics, Australia

“As a kid I always wanted to be an engineer. I found my passion in problem solving, particularly in the fascinating soil behaviours, which led me onto the path of research in geotechnical engineering. Now at SMEC, I am exposed to a variety of exciting problems, and get to work with other teams to learn how they solve problems, which just clicks with my passion.” – Yinghi Zhang, Engineer – Geotechnics, Australia

Supporting the careers of our female young professionals needs to be about harnessing their passion, celebrating their diversity, and nurturing their skills as engineers. Creating policies and procedures to foster gender diversity is a critical step, but as a standalone item, they are not enough to influence the shift in thinking and behaviour that we need to see. Creating and influencing change is multifaceted, we also need to help women feel they belong in our industry, where their voices are heard, their contributions valued and potential can be realised. This requires a cultural shift, challenging societal norms and expectations, which no one organisation can change, but together as an industry and as individuals, we can influence.


Overcoming bias and the feeling of being underestimated

For a long time, the industry has been working to diversify the engineering workforce, with initiatives aimed at inspiring and supporting women to pursue engineering and technical services careers. Significant progress has been made in increasing the numbers of women in these traditionally male-dominate fields, but in speaking to our young female professionals, we heard some are still encountering barriers, such as gender bias (both conscious and unconscious), and feelings of being undervalued and needing to prove themselves equal to their male colleagues persist.

“Breaking through barriers has required resilience, assertiveness, and a commitment to proving myself through hard work and results. Overcoming these challenges has only made me stronger and more determined to succeed.”
———— Freeha Nisar, Junior Engineer, Pakistan

“Admittedly my experience as a woman engineer has not been always pleasant, but the positive thing is that there are plenty of people, women and men, who are aware of this circumstance and striving for change. Even if I’m starting with something small – in everything we do, we are voting for the society that we desire.”  – Yinghi Zhang, Engineer – Geotechnics, Australia

Our young female engineers show remarkable resilience as they face these challenges in the pursuit of their passion. It is key we ensure that these biases are not seen as personal failures, but rather systematic issues that need addressing on a large scale.

We’ve seen that connecting young professionals with female leaders and mentors is important to their success. Having a network to provide support, opportunities for growth, and share experiences with can empower young women to overcome challenges.

“I was very nervous when commencing as a fresh undergrad, but then Tiasha was assigned to be my work buddy. No matter how small my contributions were, she always thanked me, which is very reassuring for someone new and unsure about where they stand. In the future, I hope to be in a position where I can positively influence future students by sharing my experiences, especially other young women who are considering a career in engineering.” – Yee Ping Goh, Undergraduate Engineer – Geotechnics, Australia

Amidst the challenges lies an opportunity for transformative change that we can all be a part of. The power of an individual in making a difference to the careers of these young professionals cannot be overstated. Not just leaders, but any one person can advocate for equal opportunities in our industry and stand up to biased behaviour. A crucial first step is acknowledging and addressing our unconscious biases – the subtle prejudices and assumptions that shape our perceptions and behaviours without us even realising it.


Imposter syndrome and strategies for success

Imposter syndrome refers to a pervasive feeling where individuals fear that they will eventually be exposed as less competent than others perceive them to be. The term “imposter phenomenon” was initially coined in 1978 following a study that examined the experiences of accomplished women. Unfortunately, it is already felt by many young women just beginning their careers in our industry.

In the industry, I’ve heard women being told that opportunities have been unfairly given to them and that their achievement is not the result of genuine effort, but because of the push for diversity. The words of others carry significant weight in shaping self-perception and self-esteem. I sometimes grapple with the feelings of imposter syndrome, experiencing doubts with merit, opportunities and experiences I have attained. When navigating these challenges, I remind myself to have grace and patience with others and what they say, as well as myself when I doubt. I am grateful to have peers who remind me that I am a hardworking and dedicated.”
———— Yee Ping Goh, Undergraduate Engineer – Geotechnics, Australia

Taking time to reflect on achievements, big or small, and celebrating and keeping a record of successes and of those around you can provide personal evidence to battle feelings of imposter syndrome.

Leaders can support their teams through fostering an environment of learning and growth and equal opportunity. Sharing their own moments of self-doubt and the tools they use to overcome this, helps create open communication and reduce stigma for a supportive environment.

“My role model and source of inspiration is my team lead, Mr. Shahid Pervaiz. His leadership style, marked by fairness and inclusivity, has had a profound impact on me. Regardless of gender, Mr. Shahid has always treated me and my peers with equal respect and opportunities. His commitment to fostering a supportive and merit-based work environment encourages me to strive for excellence every day.” – Freeha Nisar, Junior Engineer, Pakistan.


A bright future fuelled by a thirst for knowledge

Regardless of their challenges, these young women are excited and positive about their future in the industry, seeing the incredible opportunities that lie ahead. It’s our greatest honour to be a part of their journey, supporting their careers and fostering their sense of belonging and value in the industry.

“It has been incredibly fulfilling to see my ideas come to life and positively impact the organisation’s success. This achievement validates my capabilities and reinforces my belief in the power of teamwork and innovation. It’s moments like these that remind me why I’m passionate about what I do.” – Freeha Nisar, Junior Engineer, Pakistan.

“The best moment in my career so far has been using the knowledge I gathered in university and applying it into my work, and vice versa. The current mix of office and site work that I get at SMEC has been invaluable for my learning.”
———— Pabina Gotame, Undergraduate Engineer – Geotechnics, Australia

“I constantly learn new things at work and expand my knowledge and understanding of the world around me. I am privileged to learn from some brilliant and dedicated individuals at SMEC who provide invaluable learning experiences and mentorship. I aspire to be able to contribute to benefit of the community with integrity and excellence through my future endeavours.” – Yee Ping Goh, Undergraduate Engineer – Geotechnics, Australia

“Because of the infinite possibility of knowing that any project can happen, and that any problem can be encountered along the way, I look forward to the future of my career in awe. It is thrilling to know that the projects I’m working on will build a more connected community and a greener planet.”” – Yinghi Zhang, Engineer – Geotechnics, Australia

As our young female professionals progress in their careers, they will become decision-makers, mentors, and role models for future generations. Their work will drive real world impact for communities across the globe and their perspectives can drive organisational change, foster supportive work environments, and encourage more young women to pursue engineering as a supportive and rewarding profession.

Fostering a culture of belonging in our industry requires open dialogue and collaboration. Platforms such as International Women’s Day serve as catalysts for meaningful discussions around gender equality and inclusion. By amplifying diverse voices and sharing experiences, such as those of the female professionals joining our industry, we can challenge existing norms and create a bright future for everyone who wants to be an engineer.