Interview with Yewande project manager at TFL

women engineer in construction interview
Interview of female project manager Yewande

K: Hi, my name is Kyrsten Perry, I’m one of the directors here at Anglo. I’ve been in this business development role for about two years and I really like the idea for having a national day for women in engineering because as I understand it the UK is very poor in terms of women going into engineering, studying for it, staying in it and moving forward.

Our research shows that 6% of women come into engineering in the UK and they’re not necessarily staying in it especially when women have children they don’t necessarily come back into it, it’s like 1 or 2 % as a national average which is appalling . I looked at where are we in relationship to other countries; Canada and Australia are strides ahead of the UK, like 20% or something.

Hence my colleague Toni tried to find somebody like you who is a real example for young women and why we want to support this particular day, so welcome!

Y: Thank you

K: We chose you because you’re a finalist for the European women in construction and engineering award, best project manager.

 

What prompted you to go forward for that?

Y: I was actually nominated by TFL. I was quite shocked to find out and it was a really good boost for me because as you say there aren’t many senior project managers. Opportunities where women are highlighted is one way to give women the confidence to stick with it and to actually want to move forward.

The other thing that even happened apart from this is, TFL are celebrating 100 years in the transport industry and it came up because 100 years ago Bakerville (Bakerloo) line was ran by women totally.

K: Wow! So during the First World War. We can do it if we need too! (laughs)

Y: so that’s being celebrated now to say that there is nothing women can’t do.

 

K: So what prompted you to choose a career in engineering?

Y: I started off with Computer Science, that’s what I wanted to study…

K: Were you into Maths and Science when you were a kid?

Y: Not necessarily, I was into science but not the elementary science, I was more trying to find out why things worked in a certain way. I was very analytical in my thinking so trying to do that at University wasn’t an issue. It almost seems like there a weird fallacy that says that we’re meant to be more soft and looking for cuddly things but I find that women are a lot more focused that we give ourselves credit for.

That’s what helped me because when I joined there was about 6 of us and there was about 600 guys so really walking into lecture rooms… they always knew when you were in or when you were out; you could ask if a guy was in nobody would even remember but if you weren’t in then everyone knew you weren’t in (laughs) but with time I realised it’s just about getting your mind right and if you were able to focus which I think most women are capable of.

Maybe it doesn’t help that, growing up, and I know it sounds strange saying that, but look at toys and things that help you learn as you grow. Where things are put in to girls and boys, I don’t think it helps because it makes girls feel that if they’re interested in technical stuff they’re butch or something…

We’ve come into a very strangely, more, I don’t want to say superficial because being girly there is nothing wrong with it but, we’re more in a heightened time where everyone knows how to wear the best make up, this and that, and try to marry it with what we think as gloves, grease, dirt etc.. just isn’t working, I can just see girls faces going like that: “I don’t want to do that“ but if they can focus more on the fact that you don’t have to do the nuts and bolts. You can do that if you really want to but there is also another side where you are still an engineer because your professionalism is what helps the guys on tools do better work.

 

K: Could you tell us a bit about your job, what you do and how you got to where you are?

Y: I am a project manager and I have worked for TFL for the past 11 years. For London Underground it’s absolutely amazing because you get to work on different stations and projects.

They gave me the great opportunity to allow me to be seconded into a role to understand how the role works and if I felt like I could continue with it. Now once I finished that then I managed several other projects as well. I was working on the cameras at Tower Bridge, that is such a beautiful place it’s one of the best visual images I have every time I think about it. You’re working with men obviously and each time I walk into an office I’m the only girl and I think, here we go (laughs) but I’ve come to the point now where I know that all they’re waiting for is for you to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about.

When the job of project manager within London Underground came up, I think it’s probably the only time I ever did what men do which is when they look at the job criteria and say “I haven’t done all of that but I’m applying anyway” and I applied and it worked and then I was able to get onto an actual project manager role.

It can be hard but if women are prepared to sometimes not always be the friend but be the manager, because you’ve got to do the work then you find it’s not as difficult. People will trust you if you have the results and I have been lucky to have that with my team who know that if I say this is what we need to do then everyone is prepared to follow through because they trust that I have thought it through to the end and it should be profitable for everyone.

K: You obviously got confident at some point, something changed.

 

What was the trigger, what made that change happen, did it happen internally, did it happen externally, what do you think?

Y: the real turning point was when I had my first official mentor. It helped me that he was a guy so he was very straight forward and I remember the first few months when we used to meet up and I would complain about something and he would just listen and then go “so what exactly are you going to do about this?” (laughs) That’s not what I was waiting for, I just wanted to have a moan and just go away and feel happy but he was quite strict and after a few meetings I realised “oh this is going to be like homework”, I have to literally come prepared and he was straight and he would tell me “look I know you’re capable now you have to believe you’re capable, there is no one else who can do it for you and every time we met up and he talked about it, it then started to grow in me I just started to feel if he thinks I’m good then I must be okay…

K: So it’s someone else believing in you, right? There is one think I want to highlight in this interview it’s the importance that women support other women. Madeline Oprah in the US, American politics has this saying that “there is a special place in hell for women that don’t support iother women” you can imagine in politics it’s really real but also in the business world, just generally I think it’s real because if you are acting as an example, Im acting as an example, other people are acting as examples other women feel Oh maybe I can throw my hat and maybe go for it too, I can stride for this, I can stride for that and it probably sounds very sixties or seventies but have a sisterhood that is actually supporting by example, as you’re saying that is more results orientated type of support.

 

Do you want to tell us about the most challenging project you’ve ever been involved with?

Please watch the video to find out Yewande’s answer and her thoughts on the legacy she would like to leave as a successful woman in engineering.

 

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