A real passion to make a difference

The power of passion in overcoming workplace challenges is examined by Ewa Ambrosius, an associate at Thomasons.

What makes you happy at work? it’s a tough question to answer. We all want to enjoy work, but this means different things to different people.  For me, it’s knowing that what I do makes a difference to others. 

My job is designing the structure of buildings - homes, schools, offices and hospitals. I’m currently working on the £200m redevelopment of Chase Farm Hospital in north London, which will provide a modern new hospital and dramatically improve local healthcare facilities. It makes me happy thinking about how this will benefit local people. I’ve designed schools too and take pleasure in thinking of the part I’ve played in delivering better facilities that children use every day. 

I’ve been a structural engineer for 12 years and it hasn’t always been a happy experience. It started with small battles at university in Poland, where some of the older tutors would bluntly inform us that there’s no room for women in this industry. This was ironic as 40% of students in my year were female. 

I moved on to a construction site, where I was the sole woman amongst 120 men. On some days, it was very difficult to ignore digs and unpleasant comments. The trick I found was to not take things too personally and to focus on what I was there to learn. 

But I never lost my passion for designing buildings nor the sense of achievement in looking at a finished structure and appreciating what it means to the local community.

A lot has changed in the industry over the past decade. I work with many more women engineers and others in traditionally male-dominated industries such as mechanical and electrical engineering and site management. But more change is needed. Being a woman shouldn’t impact our progress, opportunities or salaries, but we all know that this isn’t yet the case. The fact that I’m writing about this topic proves the point. 

Over the last few years I’ve managed large numbers of projects and people.  I’ve progressed from working on a construction site in Poland to leading my own team as a design engineer, and last year I was promoted to associate in Thomasons’ London office. I like to think I’ve been successful. 

Was it more difficult to achieve this being a woman? I’m not sure. It may be that we expect a career where women are in the minority to be harder. 

For me, it’s important to focus on the positive not the negative. I try to do my best in every job, whether large or small. I genuinely believe that all engineers - men and women - are making a difference and helping communities. I love my job and am passionate about it. I try to share that passion with everyone, from co-workers and clients to students on work experience. I try hard not to dwell on the difficulties and hope that one day they’ll no longer be a subject for discussion.  Ultimately, it’s all about how well we do in our jobs, how we help society and how much we enjoy what we do. 

I’m currently working with a female colleague on a presentation for a local girls’ school. We’re going to promote engineering as a career and impress on the girls how, if they wish, they can succeed in this industry.  In the coming years, I believe we will see more change as greater numbers of women join the industry and progress to management levels. 

I strongly believe that the passion for what we do speaks volumes. It’s certainly helped me progress my career and I look forward to seeing many more young women enjoying the pleasure of giving back to society while having a successful career and loving what they do. 

Ewa Ambrosius is an associate in the London office of Thomasons. She holds a masters in civil and structural engineering, designing structures for education, housing and healthcare, including the Finchley Memorial Hospital.