Women engineers: empowered for success at Atkins
Posting date:7/26/2019 12:42 PM
I’m Tiffany Chan, Associate Director for Tunnels and Ground Engineering at the Hong Kong office. My role is technical leader and project management for tunnel projects, mainly in design and build. I lead a consultant design team to find the best solutions when it comes to building tunnels for rail, roads and utilities. My role involves technical calculations, as well as coordination between clients, contractors, and different design teams.
What I love most about my job
Definitely how all our projects help to make people’s lives better. I’ve been involved in several large scale projects from end to end. Most recently my team worked on the Liantang Tunnel. This highways tunnel provides access to the new boundary control point and is already benefiting Hong Kong’s economy and people in the region. The Harbor Area Treatment Scheme is a tunnel network that conveys sewage to treatment works, improving water quality in the harbor area. We also worked on Dubai Metro, the first rapid transit rail network in the Middle East. It’s cutting carbon emissions, road accidents, and improving employment in the Emirate.
I also really enjoy solving difficult problems. All civils projects present different types of challenges. When faced with one, our whole team brainstorms and works together. I love this collaborative culture we have across the different disciplines.
Atkins, then and now.
Atkins was my first job and I’ve been here for 19 years. I started as a graduate engineer, became an associate director, developed from a young engineer to a mother of two. I still remember my interview, where I first learned about tunnel design, and was impressed at how ‘human’ the company felt. It still feels that way, even though we’re now one of the biggest consultants companies in Hong Kong!
Since then, I feel I’ve grown with the company. I joined when there were only 12 people in the tunnel department – now we have an experienced team of 30. I’ve been mentored personally and professionally by senior staff and colleagues who believed in me and encouraged my development. The company has supported me through all my milestones, from training as a chartered engineer to managing a growing family.
My career defining opportunity.
The most critical project in my career was the Dubai Metro Red Line and Green Line. I got involved in this project in 2007. After a few months in, I was stationed in Dubai for two years until the design work was largely completed.
Dubai’s different geological conditions and design requirements were challenging compared to the “typical” design works I was used to in Hong Kong. Since it was the first railway project and the first tunnel project in Dubai, we had to fully justify every engineering decision, and establish our own engineering models – from geological to structural design criteria.
It was my first overseas project, which widened my knowledge from being localized in Hong Kong. It gave me the opportunity to take on much more responsibility as the key coordinator between the Hong Kong design team and Dubai construction team. This project was the turning point for me, from being an engineer who followed instructions, to a leader who manages works using her own engineering judgement.
A woman in a male-dominated industry
My key challenge in engineering has been demonstrating that I’m not just a follower. Showing that I have the ability just like anyone else in the team, and that I could take up the key role. My approach has been to equip myself, staying one step ahead of what my peers are doing.
At Atkins, thanks to the support I have from senior management and colleagues, I don’t experience much difficulty, and I feel very comfortable working in my team. After I became a mother, I found I had to put much more time into my family. Everything depended on finding the right balance. I’ve really appreciated how Atkins has helped me be my best at home, and professionally through flexible working.
Diversity and inclusion in the industry
When I was a graduate engineer, many contractors believed if women went into tunnels before break-through, we would bring them bad luck. I was once even prohibited from doing an inspection inside a tunnel because of that superstition. However, the industry has changed in the last five to 10 years. More and more women are working as tunnel engineers and the Hong Kong government has put pressure on contractors to release this unreasonable restriction on women.
We have now more female consultants in engineering. And we have shown that we can do the same tasks as men, to the same quality. I do believe this will not be seen as a male dominated area for long, and gender will not be a barrier.
Atkins has been promoting women in engineering for many years. As a company we’ve demonstrated from upper management, to all our staff and the industry that we should value women as much as men. Today Atkins has many women engineers who do very well in the industry – and we now have our first female managing director, Catherine Li.
What keeps me at Atkins
I love working at Atkins because of the way we focus on the success of projects through people. It has meant I’ve had access to excellent training, from technical skills to professional development. I’ve had opportunities to do work I’m extremely proud of – including successful construction of innovative design ideas, and mega projects.
There are opportunities for everyone at Atkins. If you’re a young woman who wants to progress your career quickly, demonstrate your abilities. Want to work on one of those “glory projects”? Don’t just sit and wait, speak up. Be prepared and trust yourself!
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