Want to Stand Out in Your Field? Be Bold
On International Women’s Day, we talked with four bold Jacobs women to find out how they cultivated their careers. This time, to celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, we spoke with seven more bold Jacobs women about their stories.
Process engineer Arusha Soni; Somoud Al Masri, sales operation manager; Kelly Jeffery, civil design engineer; rail engineer Susana Gozalo; and aviation engineers Jessica Hoffman, Kristie Wilson and Nicolette Lind share details on their careers and best tips for success.
Establish common ground and be open
Senior process engineer Arusha Soni grew up in Reservoir Hills, a small suburb located in the coastal city of Durban, South Africa. Her parents, both teachers, emphasized the value of being an independent thinker and encouraged her to form her own goals.
“As a child, I was naturally curious and imaginative. I knew early that I wanted a career in developing innovative solutions to complex problems, so chemical engineering seemed like a natural fit,” Arusha shares.
During her undergraduate studies, she attended a career fair where she learned about the industry and felt an immediate draw to the concept of working on local and international projects. Soon after, she landed her first job as an associate design engineer and she’s been in the industry since, working with various clients in the petrochemical market, including Sasol, BP, Chevron, Engen and Sapref – a Shell and BP joint venture. During the last decade, she’s even had the opportunity to travel and work in three of South Africa’s major cities.
She says, “Besides the change in terrain, I’ve been exposed to different cultures and encountered many individuals from different walks of life. Being the outlier taught me to build relationships and establish connections from the onset.”
It’s this openness and inclusive viewpoint that she encourages women to adopt early on to guide their success, “Establish common ground and engage in open dialogue. We can add value in meaningful ways when we do,” she says.
To steal a line from U.S. Olympian Michael Phelps, she quotes, “There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, there are no limits.”
“Get out of your comfort zone whenever you can and challenge yourself. You will be amazed with the results,” encourages sales operation manager Somoud Al Masri.
Somoud started her career as a highway engineer and geographic information system (GIS) specialist. A little more than a decade ago, she moved from Syria, her home country, to Dubai, opening a world of possibilities.
“I really started discovering what I can do and where I can fit within an organization,” she shares of the move. “The biggest hurdle was that I learned engineering in Arabic. Everything I learned my entire life up to that point was in Arabic. So, switching to English and trying to explain anything to my colleagues was a big challenge for me.”
Since then, she’s not only overcome the hurdle, but turned it into a thriving career – moving around to work in several different departments until settling on business development and sales, where she says she really found herself. While in sales, she’s supported many areas of the business, including infrastructure, buildings, transportation and oil and gas.
This willingness to move around to find the right fit even led to a stint on a major program. When CH2M, now Jacobs, won the contract to manage the building of the site that will host Expo 2020 Dubai, Somoud got the opportunity step out of her comfort zone and serve on the program mobilization team as the reports manager.
“Believe in yourself and your capabilities, and know your weak points,” Somoud tells others looking to find their place. “Acknowledge and work on them – don’t let them beat you.”
She adds, “Build good relationships with people around you, treat people the way you like to be treated and always maintain your bridges!”
Be enthusiastically flexible
The Scientista Foundation recently highlighted the striking recruitment gap for female engineers in this Womengineer infographic: despite growing estimates for the amount of STEM-related careers in the next decade, women only account for 13 percent of practicing engineers. It’s statistics like these that New Zealand-based civil engineer Kelly Jeffery is passionate about changing.
When she’s not developing highway design concepts for projects such as NZ Transport Agency’s Weigh Right Program – which will use intelligent transportation system software to reduce heavy vehicle overloading on New Zealand roads – she regularly gives career talks and workshops at local schools to spark interest in STEM.
Recently though, she says she started to wonder how she could take her current commitment as an ambassador a step further, and that’s how she ended up travelling to Malawi, Africa in May as part of a Women’s Expedition team to work with inspirational young women and school girls.
“It’s been my dream for years to be a part of something focused on consciously creating a better future for the next generation – women who are passionate about sustainability and female empowerment,” Kelly shares. “My mission is to give women a voice and to inspire them to leave a legacy by growing new collaborations of like-minded powerful women to build strong communities.”
While in Malawi, she conducted several engineering workshops within local communities, using them as a platform to breakdown cultural barriers and demonstrate how engineering is vital in everyone’s lives. And, she used the workshops to inspire others, particularly young women, to consider a career within the construction industry.
In her own career, Kelly didn’t take the typical route to engineering. Instead, she started as a junior apprentice building her knowledge and experience through on-the-job training alongside part-time study.
“The more flexible you can be, the more opportunities are likely to be open to you,” she encourages those in the process of thinking about what their future may hold. “Be enthusiastic! Grab every opportunity that comes your way.”
She adds, “Don’t be afraid to be assertive and have confidence.”
Work hard and pay no attention to the naysayers
Picking the civil engineering career path was never an issue at home for Susana Gozalo, whose father is also an engineer. Now a railway engineer based in the United Kingdom, she says she felt encouraged to choose the career she wanted and at first, that led her to transport planning.
“I’ve always searched for roles and projects that present me with a challenge, so I can learn while on the job and put all my abilities to the test,” Susana says, noting that being a woman, and of non-U.K.origin, in a U.K. rail environment presented a unique set of challenges once she made the switch from road safety, planning and design of transport and highway infrastructure to railways more than nine years ago.
Since joining the rail industry, she’s enjoyed seeing the positive impact her work has in people’s everyday lives. From offering a shortened, more comfortable journey for up to 60 million passengers – many of whom are on their pilgrimage to the Mecca – with the Haramain High Speed Railway on track to open later this year in Saudi Arabia, to the eventual connection of 8-out-of-10 largest British cities and creation of 25,000 jobs through High Speed Two (HS2), the positive outcomes she’s helped deliver are undeniable.
It’s projects like these and her wider contributions to the industry that recently earned her recognition as Best Woman Rail Engineer at the 2018 European Women in Construction & Engineering Awards.
Yet, despite her success she says she still has much to learn, and she now believes she has a lot to share with the younger generation – like the importance of finding good mentors who will help and support you along the way. Without her own mentors, she notes she wouldn’t be where she is today.
She adds, “Being a woman in the construction and engineering industries, I’m also very passionate about making sure women have a seat at the table.” Her best advice for getting there?
“Work hard, have fun and don’t listen to those who say you’ll never get there. Believe in yourself.”
Take every opportunity and support each other
Nearly one month ago as the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) team in Texas successfully relocated the threshold of one of its busiest runways, Jessica Hoffman proudly stood as one of just a few women working on the airfield. It’s a humbling experience she describes as “fascinating, exciting and impressive.”
The team worked 12 hours overnight to relocate the 34-year-old runway’s threshold several thousand feet to a new temporary location in its preparation for rebuilding.
Jessica recalls sitting at the end of the night – on a cooler in the back of a pickup truck – waiting for the flight check as the sun came up, “It was a proud moment – having just witnessed the team accomplish a year of design work in one night.”
As the deputy project manager on the Runway 17-Center/35-Center rehabilitation project, Jessica spends much of her time away from her home office in Denver, Colorado, working on the effort to rebuild the runway, which handles more arrivals than any other at DFW.
Back in Colorado, life is equally as exciting and busy for her teammates Kristie Wilson and Nicolette Lind, who are working on projects for Glacier Park International Airport in Montana and Kahului Airport in Hawaii, respectively.
Nicolette, who was born and raised in Las Vegas, says she spent much of her time growing up on construction sites with her father, who had an excavation business. This background and a knack for math and science led her to Colorado State University for its engineering program.
Colorado-native Kristie also attended CSU. Before joining the aviation practice team, she even worked on several roadways she’d travelled for years growing up.
“It’s rewarding to see something you design get built and used by the public every day,” says Kristie. “Denver is a growing city and it’s awesome to see all the progress happen in our transportation system including highways, public transit and now the expansion of the airport.”
Jessica had a similar experience earlier in her career with her transportation work in and around St. Louis and southern Illinois, where she lived before relocating to Colorado in 2015.
Although they’re all now working as aviation engineers, Jessica, Nicolette and Kristie each began their careers in roadway and transportation design – just another one of the commonalities between the three that’s led to their friendship in-and-outside the office.
“It’s so important to find these friendships that can extend outside of work because it empowers us to teach and learn from each other,” Nicolette reflects. “Having that respect and support within our group is beyond valuable for our personal and career growth. Plus, it makes work a lot more fun.”
As women in engineering, the trio aims to push their own boundaries and inspire others – whether that’s in the field at a job site or on the field dominating their recreational kickball league on the weekends. And the teammates all emphasized being open to opportunities as a key to being successful.
“Don’t be afraid to dive in and say yes. Sometimes raising your hand takes you on a really cool journey. That’s actually how I got involved with my current project at DFW,” Jessica shares. “I was working on a smaller project there, had an informal conversation and when they asked if I was interested in project management, I didn’t hesitate to jump in.”
Kristie adds, “Don’t shy away from opportunities just because you don’t know what to do or how to solve the problem.”
“But don’t wait for opportunities to fall in your lap,” Nicolette suggests. “Get out there, ask questions, take initiative and pave your own way.” “And be willing to learn from your mistakes along the way, too,” Kristie says.
“Own your mistakes and learn from them,” Jessica echoes. “Be honest with yourself and don’t make excuses. Just do good work and that speaks for itself.”
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