Career path: Christina Jackson, Amey

Christina Jackson, Amey,receiving her lifetime achievement award

Amey technical director Christina Jackson has been awarded the ‘Lifetime achievement in engineering’ at the Women in Construction and Engineering Awards. What has it been like as one of the few?

What is your job?

I work for Amey, one of the UK market leaders in the provision of infrastructure services.  I am the Technical Director of the geotechnical engineering group, responsible for technical excellence of the geotechnical services delivered for contracts across the UK.

Why did you decide to go into engineering/infrastructure?

When I was at school (an all-girls school) there was very limited information on career choices. My education was quite liberal with few boundaries and I felt there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do if I wanted to.  So when I was thinking about careers and was told by one young man “You can’t be a civil engineer – girls can’t do that” – I thought – “Of course I can!”

Did you feel like you were being a bit of a pioneering woman?

I was conscious that it was an unusual career choice, and I didn’t really know what I had signed up for, but I was up for the challenge.

What did you study? How did that lead to this career?

I studied Civil engineering at Leeds University which I chose for its positive attitude toward female undergraduates wishing to study engineering. After graduation I joined a design consultancy in a structural group, but had so enjoyed engineering geology at university, I wanted to try Geotechnics and went to Cornell University in the US to do a research MSc in Geotechnical Engineering.

Who was your first employer and why?

Interviews for jobs after university were really varied, with many intrusive questions  (and even hostile silences), and as with the choice of University, I went where I was made to feel welcome and joined Arup. After gaining my MSc in the US, I returned to Arup.

Did you feel like the lone female?

There were other young women engineers where I studied and worked so I didn’t feel like an outsider.  It was my experience early in my career that being a bright young female was an advantage and got you noticed above male colleagues.  It is something I often hear from young women still. The issues develop as your career progresses, and I have experienced discriminatory attitudes as well as unconscious bias.  But life isn’t fair and you just have to get on with it. For all the times that I have been exasperated and disappointed, there have been many more moments of achievement and gratification because civil engineering is so interesting and varied.

How have things changed over 37 years for women in the industry?

Sadly, I have to say the short answer is not much.  We all get bruised on that glass ceiling. I would say that it is now more common and expected for women to be successful in returning to work after maternity leave.  After having my first child I was the first woman in my office to return to work after maternity leave, and part time working was considered a huge concession.  Nowadays, across the industry there are more opportunities for women to return work on a more flexible and part time basis- which provides the platform for women to continue their professional careers.

Do you miss being one of the few?

I am still one of the few. There are more female engineers in the workplace now, but not of my age and seniority and I still spend a lot of time being the only woman engineer present.

How do you feel about getting a life time achievement award?

I was surprised and delighted.

Women in civil engineering are sometimes reluctant to enter/be part of "Women" awards? What is your view?

We really need a big and diverse talent pool to develop the engineers and technicians who can respond to the rapidly changing demands of our society. Having diverse role models is an important part of that.  So women who are prepared to put themselves forward as role models are needed, and that may involve getting over that self- doubt

Who has had the most influence over your career and why?

I could list inspirational female engineers such as Jane Wernick and Jean Venables, or alternatively mention those who have obstructed my career, but the genuine answer is my two daughters. They are at the centre of all the choices I have made.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Hang on, it’s going to be a roller coaster ride!

What is the one thing you have done that has been fundamental to your career?

That would be my involvement with the Institution of Civil Engineers.  From early membership of the ICE WM committee, I was chair in 2004/5 during the national pilot scheme of revitalisation and regionalisation. This involved initiating externally focused activity that developed influence with decision makers in the WM region, raising the quality of debate on Infrastructure issues.  My on-going involvement includes being a reviewer, participation in the EngTech initiative and public voice activity.  It has given me a wide perspective of the industry and great networking opportunities.

What is the best thing so far in your career?

The most interesting has been leading innovative remediation projects involving electrokinetic treatment.  The most gratifying has been mentoring young engineers and technicians and seeing them develop and succeed.

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