How things have changed

Vicky Stewart | 23 Jun 2016 | Comments

On 18th June, it was exactly 15 years since I first joined Atkins, as a placement student in the acoustics team.

I certainly didn’t know what an acoustic consultant did when I was at school. With no idea about the types of jobs which were available to me, I was drawn towards the music industry (acoustics’ much louder more outwardly glamorous friend).

However, acoustics won in the end, as I couldn't resist the allure of the anechoic chamber at the University of Salford. I really enjoyed acoustics, but I hadn’t worked out what I could do with it and although a placement year wasn’t required as part of the course, I jumped at the opportunity to come to Atkins.

I was just 19.  What a change in environment it was for me. No longer was I surrounded by people my own age and I particularly remember that at first it was strange to call ‘adults’ by their first name. I thought the people I socialised with were so grown up, but many were probably no older than 30.

Looking back, I can see how much Atkins has changed. Our offices now look a little different with smaller computers, thinner screens and smarter phones. Fax machines have vanished (and no one even noticed), paper on desks dramatically reduced and no more rows of small offices and partitioned-off areas.

It feels different too. Just like the layout which is now open and more collaborative, so is Atkins. Improvements in the way we communicate, now on digital platforms, means that it is much easier to find out what the rest of Atkins is doing worldwide, and who is doing it. New information about projects, initiatives and people appear on internal communications regularly, as well as on our social media channels such as Yammer, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogs like these.

The other big change is the gender demographic of Atkins. When I joined Atkins I was the only female in my team, although my part of the office felt pretty mixed; there were at least ten women out of around thirty staff on my floor. Other more typically engineering floors were very different, and at 19, I remember feeling less comfortable when visiting these floors.

In my first few years I didn’t meet more than two women in senior positions at Atkins. I had, and still have, a lot of respect for them (they are still at Atkins), but it was very different then. I didn't think that a role like that could ever be on the cards for me. But things have changed, and there are now many more women working at Atkins and in senior roles. Plus Atkins has a number of internal initiatives such as the Women's Leadership Council, the Women's Professional Networks and the Women's Development Centre, which offer excellent support to women in the business.

When I joined Atkins, I thought that I must be different from other girls, as I was working in a predominantly male field. But I have come to realise over the years that it shouldn’t be about gender but about having a passion, no matter what gender. I have been volunteering in schools since 2008, as it is important to me that young people, especially girls, aren’t put off science and engineering. Through this volunteering I have had the opportunity to see that its companies like Atkins which have taken the lead in society to encourage better diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) careers.

There are a lot more women in engineering now, so something must be working, but we still have a long way to go. I have met so many brilliant and inspirational women over the last 15 years, and  although there may be some who still see a woman working in engineering as unusual, it is now much more ‘normal’ for women to work in these fields. I’ve been able to develop my career too, and see a clear path ahead that I am taking.

I hope that in future when young women are asked how they got into engineering, they won't say it's because they are different, they will say it's because they love making a difference; because 'being different' shouldn’t be a prerequisite of a successful career in engineering.