Break the code; break the norm

WGA AU | Wallbridge Gilbert Aztec - Photo: Break the code; break the norm

Meet Liseli. She is an international student and an undergraduate at the University of Newcastle studying to be a Structural Engineer. We met Liseli while she participated in the WGA Graduate Program at our Newcastle Office. Here’s how she works to #CrackTheCode for a gender-equal future.

Liseli’s love for physics and problem-solving was a big contributor to making her career choice. But her decision to choose the path of an engineer was formed out of a much larger purpose.

Why did you choose this industry to work in?

I don’t come from an engineering background. As in, none of my family have done engineering. I am the first one. They were more into the idea of me doing architecture. Because it’s more female-inclusive, I guess. Whereas engineering is mainly male-focused even to this date. It was challenging for me to convince my parents. But I am glad that I took this opportunity.

Also, I am from Zambia, and in my country, we mainly have a wet and dry season. It rains a lot and there has been a struggle to manage stormwater. Drainage is a big issue and we get cholera outbreaks almost every year because of the deficiency in stormwater management. So, one thing that motivated me to get into civil engineering is being able to help with that problem. Because it’s relatively a simple problem but it yields a lot of consequences as mortality rates are high because of this issue. That’s what motivated me.

What did you enjoy most about working at WGA?

This is my first internship as an engineering student. I appreciate how friendly everyone is at WGA and there is always room to ask for help or questions whenever you are stuck. It’s just very humbling to see how experienced engineers go out of their way to help. I wasn’t expecting that at all and it’s so good to see that WGA is very interested in growing its undergraduate engineers and graduate engineers. That was very important for me. It helps me to keep going and keeps me motivated and engaged while at work.

What are the 3 most important things you learnt during your internship?

I have realised, it’s one thing to have a degree, and another to actually have work experience. Working at WGA helped me perfect my skills, and problem-solving abilities and understand why certain things are the way they are.

I’ve learnt to communicate better with peers and ask questions whenever I’m unsure of something. Collaboration and teamwork- it’s a never-ending learning experience. Most importantly, I’ve had a better understanding of how to implement theory to yield practical engineering solutions.

What can you say about the expectations vs the reality of working in engineering?

My expectations were that I was going to be asked to work on projects on my own from the first day of my internship. The reality was that it’s a learning process throughout, being mentored by experienced engineers ensuring that we understand the principles of engineering. I learnt more about how to deal with stormwater management, and I got real-life experience at WGA.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I enjoy going to the gym, hiking, playing sports and reading. I feel like doing these helps my mood generally. That’s why I am big on physical activities to get my body moving. For me, work and play is not a big issue, well at least not yet (laughs).

What are your hopes/dreams in terms of career achievement?

I look forward to making an impact on the world around me- specifically in my home country, Zambia. I think of encouraging more women to take on more STEM-based degrees.

I would like to see more of us. I think it is an ongoing stereotype, especially among African women. I guess it’s an ongoing fear, like I said, my parents were worried for my life. What they need to understand is that the world is changing. At the same time, we need to change the narrative in the engineering industry.

How could the engineering industry attract and retain more women?

One way would be to engage in more STEM women-focused activities, especially for undergraduates and graduates who are keen to take up the challenge of engineering. This encourages potential female engineers to meet face-to-face with established female engineers and grow professional networks.

I would like to see more activity at the university level. Engineers Australia Club is also quite active as well. Which is how I got this opportunity. I attended one of their forums where I met Andrew Mosdell. Funny enough I was the only female student. Which speaks volumes. I think that needs to change.

The IWD theme for this year is #CrackTheCode. In an ideal world, what would this mean for you?

This would mean exploring ideas, such as introducing policies that benefit women and a transformation in leadership to create an environment free of bias and stereotypes.

I think, generally speaking, it will be a good idea to implement more policies that benefit women, in terms of maternity leave and menstrual leave which is a big one. It’s very common for people to downplay how our menstrual cycle impacts our careers and even our day-to-day life. I think that’s a big one for me. Also changing the whole narrative of the stereotypes and the bias in the industry.