Dr Barbara Lane FREng is Director, Technology Group UK leader at Arup.
“We need far more diversity of skills and diversity in outlook when setting the agenda for how we will deal with the complexity arising in today’s built environment. By this, I mean the issues that we face due to climate change and rapid urbanisation. ”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
I help to shape a safer world by applying fire safety science and engineering knowledge to the built environment in all its forms – that includes everything from office blocks and opera halls to train stations and homes. In the process, I also help address the complex issues impacting humanity. My field of engineering helps to improve the lives of people all around the world.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I loved buildings and spaces and wanted to be part of creating them. I also loved maths and all the sciences and wanted to learn more about those subjects and apply them to my work. I wanted to do something practical that would have a real impact on the shape of the world and how we live.
Plus, I was also told that I shouldn’t and couldn’t be an engineer because I was a girl – and that really piqued my interest!
Please describe your first job.
My first ever job was for the summer, working with a construction team on a huge building site by the Seine river in Paris. The site job came with an old-style Parisian apartment. The whole experience was wonderful.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
The ability to participate in all the major issues facing the world today, from climate change to improving where people live, work and travel. Being an engineer also lets you participate in creating beautiful architecture and enabling creativity and complexity. No day is ever the same. I can’t ever remember feeling bored at work or feeling like it’s 'just a job'. I am genuinely inspired and motivated by the scale and scope of the ideas and initiatives that we can participate in.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
Pride isn’t the right word, but I am very thankful I have been able to use my skills to assist the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire. I will never forget waking up that morning, watching the news, and how I felt the moment I realised just how many people had died and what they must have gone through. It was horrific. There is a humanity needed in analysing those events that must be matched with a commitment to help drive forward a different way to create safe homes for everyone. I feel very passionate and focused on bringing change. Safety is a right for everyone.
I am exceptionally proud of the team in Arup who are working with me to tackle a set of technically complex, but extremely distressing, problems. The team has been utterly amazing. A critical part of being an engineer is your ability to work in teams, form strong relationships, and to be committed to achieving a goal together. I have made very strong friendships throughout my career and again, I am really grateful to be part of a profession that allows such opportunities.
How has being a woman in engineering changed since you started working in the profession?
When I first started in 1997, it was all the stereotypical things: being asked to make the tea rather than being assumed to be the person there to provide fire safety consulting advice; getting harassed on site; having to do just that little bit more all the time to keep your place. In a way, it’s hard to explain what it was like. But now, 21 years later, I love the way the new generation entering the profession has no expectation of anything other than equality and fairness. It is brilliant! People can call out bad behaviour and have an expectation of fairness. It’s made a massive difference.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
Come and join us as soon as you can to help shape a safer world.
This year’s IWD theme is ‘Balance for Better’. How can engineers contribute to a gender-balanced world?
We can do far more work on inclusive design and set higher expectations of our own organisations and projects. This is so important, and relevant to substantially more areas than just gender.
A gender-balanced workforce will bring greater diversity to the engineering profession, and in doing so, create a change for the good – in how we do our work, and in how we consider what that work should achieve.
We need far more diversity of skills and diversity in outlook when setting the agenda for how we will deal with the complexity arising in today’s built environment. By this, I mean the issues that we face due to climate change and rapid urbanisation. We need to work out how to really drive societal shifts to achieve gender-balanced economies around the globe, as well as working out how to make our world a safer place for everyone.
As said above, I love how the new generations I work with expect balance. We need to play our part in making sure this balance happens now, and that we leave that balance as our legacy.
Engineering is a truly global platform for good. It’s how we can really make a difference and I would encourage women and girls everywhere to take up the challenge.
This profile was created for International Women’s Day in March 2019. All information was correct at time of publication