Infrastructure Magazine caught up with Kate Fallon, Principal Technical Safety and Risk Engineer at Kent, for an exclusive Q&A where Kate shared with us her experiences as an engineer.
Kate discusses the importance of striking a balance between career and motherhood, emphasising the need for greater support and encouragement for women in engineering.
What made you choose a career in engineering?
I finished high school at 17 with my highest marks in mathematics and chemistry so a teacher suggested I study Engineering. When I looked at the number of women studyingEngineering, Chemical Engineering had the highest percentage of female graduates and that was actually a key decision in choosing to study Chemical Engineering.
What are the advantages/challenges of being an engineer in a male-dominated industry?
Let’s be honest, Engineering and Oil and Gas has always been a “man’s world”. As a graduate, I would be in meetings and workshops and asked if I was the receptionist or HR. But in the past ten years there has been a huge shift in promoting women and ensuring we acknowledge and celebrate their successes.
My current manager on the project I am seconded to is a woman and she is one of the best bosses I have worked with. Choosing to be both an engineer and a parent I find often presents unique challenges to women. Women will usually take maternity leave when they have a baby.
I know women that have felt rushed to return to their positions otherwise they would be overlooked for promotions or career progression. I know women whose employers have made the assumption that their interests would now be with their kids and not their jobs and subsequently given smaller roles on projects.
We need to support engineers that choose to be mothers and encourage their return to work when they are ready, without holding their careers back or penalising them. We need to acknowledge that women, regardless of parenthood, are as much a part of the workforce and as important as the men who did not take any parental leave.
In recent years, I have seen companies install creches and offer flexible working arrangements to allow employees to be mothers as well as be part of the workforce which is truly amazing. I am very fortunate to work for Kent, which is a company that embraces women and allows them the flexibility to do their job and do it well, as well as be a mother.
Is enough being done to promote/encourage women in engineering?
There could be a bigger push at the high school or university level to promote young women to study engineering. A few years after I graduated, some universities were offering women scholarships to study and there are now STEM programs in high schools which is great, but there is still more that can be done.
I joined WISE (Women in Subsea Engineering) and they hold regular events to celebrate women, which is a great way to bring people together.
What has been your biggest win throughout your time at Kent?
When the junior engineers realised they could approach me for advice. I joined Kent in a man-only team, where I am still the only female, so now I regularly look to support junior engineers by sharing my experience and knowledge.
Hearing from them on their own work and career journeys, and sharing my own perspective, allows for transparency and open conversations that have created a great team dynamic.