Poonam Lad is a woman who has worked in construction most of her working life and has worked with SWJ Consulting for over 4 years as a Revit Technician. We asked her to give her thoughts on being a woman in the very male-dominated structural engineering environment, her thoughts on gender equality in the workplace, and in general. We share them with you on International Women’s Day 2022.
I am a parent of an 18-month-old, and I have worked as a Revit Technician for SWJ for 4 years. Pregnancy is different for everyone, and I found the constant changes to my body uncomfortable and on occasion distressing. Working in a largely male office however proved beneficial to my mental health. I got a male perspective on pregnancy listening to stories from the fathers in the office which was refreshing and insightful. From listening to peers talk about their negative experiences with pregnancy in the workplace, I count myself very lucky to be a part of the SWJ Consulting culture.
The return to work as a first-time parent, after a year off, was daunting but the directors made every effort to remind me not to add undue pressure onto myself; by instantly trying to return to my original working pace. They made it clear there was no pressure to return full time, and they would rather I work fewer hours well, than a full week exhausted.
Most of my peers locally are female, so coming into a mainly male environment each week creates a nice balance in my day-to-day interactions. My past employment has been in childcare, so I have experienced working in a traditionally female and male environment. It was a little disheartening to see so few male childcare providers, and I was surprised to learn that there was no recognition for male workers in traditionally female roles.
One of my pregnancy scans was done by a male sonographer; it was disappointing to hear him ask me if I wished to rearrange my appointment for a female member of staff, or to have a female present. This assumption that all males are predators perpetuates gender division, and so it is understandable why there are few males in care driven roles. The need to encourage women to pursue male-dominated roles was done in the aftermath of the initial feminist movement; to break down barriers that kept women oppressed and subdued. Now I believe that to achieve full equality in the workplace we need to encourage positivity towards males seeking traditionally female careers. Moving forward as a society we should focus less on gender suitability for roles and more on the actual quality of work and enthusiasm for the job role.
I have found making connections with colleagues differs from one environment to the next, but I believe it is largely down to your individual mindset. It can be daunting mixing with another gender if you have grown up believing in gender stereotypes. It takes a group effort to actively engage with others and learn to embrace similarities and differences. Colleagues that treat each others with respect, and understand that differences can be used to benefit the task ahead, are important as they help break down the negative stereotypes that can appear in the workplace.
I find it strange when people congratulate me for being a woman in engineering as if it diminishes my hard work and effort to pursue a career of interest to me.
I am now expecting my second child and although my goals and priorities have changed with regards to my career progression timeline, they are by no means diminished. The belief that women must choose between motherhood, or a career is archaic. In reality, to financially support a family, one partner needs to make that sacrifice initially regardless of their gender. With the general attitude moving away from traditional gender bias, there are more opportunities and less stigma for males to take shared maternity leave. The reduction of the gender pay gap means there are more scenarios where either partner can choose to reduce their hours to take on parental responsibilities. The RAF have a great example of this, where the paternity/maternity leave can be shared in any ratio desired; which is a great step forward for same-sex couples or those who are adopting.
Pregnancy and motherhood take an extensive toll on the human body. Returning to work should be a choice that is made based on logistics and suitability, not on pressure from society or employers. As a woman in engineering, I am proud of my continuing development and expect to be treated based on my merit as an employee.
I am proud of all the women in the past who have had to protest and fight for the right to be treated with equality. I feel that the way to continue on their legacy is by pushing the need for merit-based equality in the workplace regardless of gender.