“I would like young women to know that with courage, hard work and tenacity they can get wherever they want to,” shares Alicia, a chartered structural engineer working as a project manager here at Duke McCaffrey.
We’re discussing International Women’s Day: an annual event celebrating the achievements of women globally while shining a light on opportunities for gender parity.
And, of course, as a sector where just 12% of employees are female, the engineering and construction industries certainly have some way to go.
“I’m really passionate about letting young people know about engineering and construction,” she shares. “Lots of children know what doctors and teachers do - but no one teaches young girls about engineering. And yet, it plays an important role in everything: from pens and footballs to bridges!”
Alicia is so committed to nurturing the next generation of engineers and construction professionals that she regularly participates in the Engineers Ireland STEPS Programme, which helps children across Ireland discover more about the engineering vocation.
But while the number of engineering schemes for young people is blossoming today, it wasn’t school-based education that inspired Alicia to pursue this career route.
“I chose to become an engineer because of my dad, who was also an engineer” she reminisces. “I always found his career fascinating and wanted to follow in his footsteps. But at first he wasn’t very supportive with my decision. He thought the sector would be too male-dominated for me!”
Despite her father’s concerns, Alicia was steadfastly determined, graduating with a Master’s degree in Civil and Structural engineering in 2014.
“I’ve always been courageous,” she explains. “I’m ambitious, and I love challenges. It’s not that I don’t get afraid - I do. But I know that pushing myself outside my comfort zone will help me grow and learn, and I want young women to know that too.”
Alicia’s ability and willingness to take on new challenges have taken her across the world as an engineer. She has been involved in the design of bridges and underground stations in Hong Kong, designing oil and gas infrastructure in Middle East and Spain and, most recently, working on a range of commercial and residential developments as part of the Duke McCaffrey team in Ireland.
“I’m proud of my resilience and adaptability. Working in many different countries, I’ve been exposed to lots of different ways of thinking, regulatory laws, cultures, customs and personalities. I’ve had to learn to think on my feet, develop an open mind and adjust quickly,” she says.
It is this trademark openness and commitment to a growth mindset that led her to apply for a project management role at Duke McCaffrey.
She explains: “Whilst I really enjoy engineering and it helped me to develop some great skills, I also want to grow my business acumen further. Project management gives you a wider perspective. You need to consider other challenges, like finances, legal issues and regulations. It felt like a natural next step for me and having an engineering background helps me to success in my role as project manager”.
For young women debating a career in engineering and construction, Alicia fervently believes it is a great career choice.
“Engineering is definitely just as much a career for women as it is for men. It’s also a fantastic subject to study. It will equip you with analytical problem-solving capabilities and open many doors career-wise.”
While some women may be concerned about joining a male-dominated industry, Alicia’s experiences are incredibly encouraging.
“I haven’t run into any particular challenges because I am a woman in construction,” she says. “However, it’s frustrating that there aren’t many of us in the sector. You don’t see many women in leadership positions, which is a shame as it sends the wrong message out.”
As well as championing diversity in the sector, Alicia stresses the importance of a great work ethic to have a successful career.
“Sometimes, I think success stories in the media are too glossy. They highlight women’s achievements but don’t focus on all the hard work behind the scenes. With that in mind, I want young people to know that success takes effort. Feeling afraid is normal when you do something new, but don’t give up! Keep working and challenging yourself, and you’ll reap the rewards.”