Changing A Stereotype With Tomorrow’s Engineers

Game, set and match to Claire Gott, MBE, as she proves why engineering should be a woman’s game.

How did you originally become interested in pursuing a career in engineering?

My ‘eureka’ moment  came on a school trip to Tanzania when I was sixteen, where I spent a week in an orphanage helping to rebuild furniture – I realised I wanted to do something hands-on to make a difference to the quality of people’s lives. That’s what led me to a degree in Civil Engineering and Architecture. Co-founding Cameroon Catalyst was the next logical step for me – I’m passionate about applying engineering skills to make small tangible steps through community led infrastructure development projects in order to end the vicious cycle of poverty in rural Cameroon.

You work with a number of bodies to promote engineering as a career and especially tackling diversity. Do you see a change in the perception of women’s contribution to STEM?

When it comes to diversity, I think the Industry is just starting to accept and react to the scale of the challenge ahead.

I strongly believe that it is our responsibility, as practicing engineers, to engage with the younger generation and equip them with the skills to successfully meet the challenges of tomorrow. As the Chair of the ICE Education and Inspiration Committee, I hope to initiate a more collaborative approach across industry to help inspire our future engineers and grow our talent pool.

Whilst institutions and organisations all have great ambitions to drive change, the approach is still somewhat fragmented and I believe that the key to success is creating an Industry of many voices with one message. For example, at WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff rather than reinventing the wheel we’ve pledged to use the WISE 10 steps to help shape our diversity action plan for current and future employees.

What advice can you offer women who want a career in your industry? 

It’s a really exciting time to be part of our Industry – the current economic climate is picking up, companies are taking on more graduates, investment in large infrastructure projects is on the up and there is a plethora of fantastic international opportunities.

I would encourage anyone who wants to help transform people’s lives, to join our Industry. I know that the projects I’ve been involved with will continue to benefit future generations beyond my lifetime, whether that’s as a result of the £1billion station redevelopment at London Bridge or a £20,000 medical facility in rural Cameroon.

My advice for women in engineering would be to aim for the sky – the so called ‘glass ceiling’ is just waiting to be broken!

What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt in your career to date?

The importance of collaboration. As a Design Manager on the London Bridge Station Redevelopment I saw first-hand how the approach to collaboration across the entire supply chain led to pioneering technical innovations! For example, the quadripartite arch solution will transform the station into a transportation hub of the 21st century whilst also respecting and complimenting the retained historical elements. I’m very proud to have been part of team that has helped to regenerate the local area whilst juggling 54million commuters each year. Some have said it’s like doing open heart surgery whilst jogging at the same time!

It must have been a very proud moment when you were awarded an MBE for services to civil engineering and charitable work in Cameroon. What does this mean to you both professionally and personally?

On a personal level, I was very honoured to receive the award and it has certainly been a career highlight! Though, really I was accepting it in behalf of Cameroon Catalyst – it’s been a real team effort to achieve so much in just 6 years. Professionally, the MBE is recognition that I stand by what I say and I’m excited to be championing humanitarian aid initiatives with RedR, Article 25 and Water Aid in my new role as WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff UK Head of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Tell us a little bit about Cameroon Catalyst and your other charity work.

The charity’s work focuses on a largely ignored country, in aid terms, which is not torn apart by war but still has plenty of people suffering in a clear cycle of poverty. Cameroon Catalyst  promotes sustainable development in East Cameroon by bringing together students, engineers and specialists to develop infrastructure projects to empower local communities and give them the tools to continue to develop and grow after project completion. Each project is designed and fundraised-for by British students and specialists, before being built and delivered by local villagers and specialists in Cameroon. Since 2009 the charity has delivered a range of projects in the village of Bambouti, including a health centre, school buildings and a solar electrification hub. The charity has now entered a new 5-year development programme addressing water and sanitation issues across the East region.

How have you found mentors and sponsors to support you in your career?

Being part of WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff enables you to shape your career, both at work and in the wider industry. My colleagues and mentors at WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff have always provided honest guidance and helped nurture my chosen career path. It’s a supportive engineering community that has given me the confidence to help mentor and guide our new talent within the business as they prepare themselves for chartership. Working on large infrastructure projects and through my involvement in the ICE  I’ve also met some incredible role models. For that, I will always been truly grateful.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I’m very fortunate to work for a business that believes in and encourages flexible working. By working from home one day a week, I cut down on travel, spend more time with my family and have a more productive working week. I’ve also adopted some quick wins – for example, I always carry a smoothie in my handbag so I can dash around London from site visits to client meetings and still make time for a healthy injection of fruit and veg!