Dr Joanna Kennedy OBE FREng is a consultant and company director, and formerly Global Leader for Project Management at Arup
“It is the profession which most of all helps make a better world.”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
I use my forty plus years of experience as a civil engineer and project manager to help clients plan and then deliver successful building and engineering projects. I have several board appointments to public and private bodies that also require business, management and team-working skills.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I wanted to use my technical skills in maths and physics in a creative way to make a positive difference to the way people lived and to their quality of life. It is the profession which most of all helps make a better world.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
The intellectual challenge, the need constantly to be creative and ingenious and the satisfaction of seeing an end product which benefits people. One of my bridge projects, completed in the 1980s, today carries over a million vehicles a week. I have enjoyed working on an enormous variety of projects and the teamwork to successfully deliver them.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
Helping found a Project Management practice at Arup which has twice been awarded Project Management Company of the Year and has grown into a successful global business. Helping launch the WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) campaign in 1984. Bringing up two children alongside a successful career. Being chosen as First Woman of Engineering in 2013 was a bonus!
How do you think gender parity in engineering can be achieved?
Gender parity should not be an aim in itself. We need more of the best people to become engineers and women can and must have an equal opportunity to enter and succeed in this exciting profession. The first step must be to address maths and physics teaching in schools alongside improving career paths within engineering and chipping away at widespread media ignorance of what professional engineers do.
How has being a woman in engineering changed since you started working in the engineering sector?
I was one of only three women out of over 100 studying engineering in my year at Oxford University. The proportion is over six times higher today. No women Fellows were elected in the first 20 years of the Royal Academy of Engineering. After another 20 years there are now over 60 of us. When I started I would always be the only woman on a building site or at a meeting. There are now senior women engineers on the regional and global boards of Arup.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
Do you want to make a better world? Do you like solving problems? Are you good with people? Would you like the chance to travel? You will have great opportunities for a satisfying career alongside your family life. You won't regret becoming an engineer – it is a profession where ideas, inspiration and team work matter most.