Video: Engineers need to stand up and be noticed says prize winning consultant

Awards wins help promote engineering says 2014 ACE Diamond Award winner Roma Agrawal of WSP.

WSP structural engineer Roma Agrawal is just 30 but won the ACE Diamond Award of Engineering Excellence last week – the overall winner of all the awards presented on the night and given to someone making an outstanding contribution to the consultancy and engineering industry.

She also picked up the highly competitive ACO Technologies sponsored Progress Network consultant of the future title.

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Agrawal was educated in India and the UK and after a physics degree at Oxford she trained in structural engineering at Imperial College. Being young, a woman, from a minority and working on what was one of the country’s most high profile projects – the Shard in London – she stood out and was soon in demand by the media. Rather than shy away she decided to embrace the chance higher profile would give her to promote her profession as widely and as much as possible. As one of the judges on the night said: “Roma cares – she genuinely wants to make a difference for the good of engineering.”

Awards night presenter Cathy Newman of Channel 4 news was equally impressed getting Agrawal a mention on the news programme and telling all her blog readers about the Diamond Award winner as well as the chronic lack of women in the profession.

“Agrawal, who came to the UK from Mumbai at the age of 16, is a brilliant role model as the government struggles to persuade girls and women to choose engineering as a career,” Newman wrote. Britain has a particular problem in this, with women accounting for fewer than 10% of engineering professionals. That’s the lowest in Europe – embarrassingly low when you consider 30% of engineers in Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus are women.”

“Roma cares – she genuinely wants to make a difference for the good of engineering.”

Agrawal is out to change those statistics by her own actions – she is on the board of the YourLife campaign to encourage more young people to study physics and maths; is a member of the Construction Industry Council diversity panel and on the knowledge management board of the Institution of Engineering & Technology.  For anyone wanting to do more themselves, we asked her:

What is the value for engineers of entering awards?

I find that entering awards helps you to meet many new people and creates new opportunities. I’ve received numerous requests to present to children and others about engineering through these contacts which is a great help for my mission to spread the word about our profession!

How did that mission come about?

Being a young woman and working on project like the Shard gave me profile and people started to ask me to things. I decided to say yes to the opportunities rather than no. Standing up and being noticed is not a natural thing for me but I am encouraged to continue because I see the difference it makes in terms of awareness of my profession. The opportunities come to me because I am a young woman from a minority – I realise I tick a lot of boxes -  but people come back to me because I say something interesting.

Would you encourage others – women and men – to do more to raise awareness of their profession by being more visible in schools, the media, government initiatives and on line via blogging etc?

Yes, engineers need to stick their heads above the parapet. The public need to know what we do because there is a huge shortage of people with our skills and we need to encourage more people into the profession. It is good to be a role model so parents can see people succeeding in engineering.

In terms of spreading the word about the engineering profession what would you like to do next?

I would like to be involved in TV documentaries about engineering and I have recently contributed to a BBC TV documentary that is yet to be aired. When I was working on the Shard I appeared in one for about 30 seconds and loved it and people remember; it does make a difference. One lady told me her niece had seen me on the documentary and had said that would like my job. But that doesn’t mean I would stop being an engineer. You have to be an engineer if you are telling people to be an engineer.”

What has the reaction been like at WSP to your wins and outside WSP?

Everyone at WSP is always very supportive and this time is no different. I work on exciting projects here with great engineers and am always learning. The reaction outside WSP has also been very positive; it was really exciting to be mentioned on Channel 4 news by Cathy Newman.

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