Growing up, I really enjoyed both maths and physics at school and was very definite about becoming an engineer, from a very young age.
Luckily for me, my dad was an engineer and my parents were very supportive and encouraged me to do what I wanted, even if it was quite different from my friends.
Aged 17 I set off for a weekend in Dundee to take part in a Women in Construction taster course, which confirmed my decision that engineering was the career for me.
I stepped on to my first site, after gaining a civil engineering degree from Heriot-Watt University. Maybe naively, it didn’t even occur to me that a young, enthusiastic female engineer might be unusual. In hindsight, the expressions on my new colleague’s faces clearly showed I was maybe not quite what they had been expecting. It didn’t take long for me to prove I had the skills, capability and determination to be an asset to the team.
By working hard, I’ve been afforded many opportunities to work in a variety of roles and my career progressed quickly. Historically, the number of women working in construction has been in the minority. I thought becoming a mum and continuing in my career would be a challenge, but in fact I was able to work flexibly and achieve a work/life balance that suited both my employer and my family situation. The sector as a whole is starting to be more progressive in this respect and is recognising that childcare can be a shared role.
At university I was one of three girls on my course. Now it’s not unusual for me to be in meetings where half the room is female, and in fact one meeting recently was all female – client, architects, engineers, planning and design managers.
I joined the Cruden Group, one of Scotland’s largest independent development and construction groups, in 2018, as a member of the senior management team at Hart Builders, their construction subsidiary in the east of Scotland.
The housing market, Edinburgh in particular, has seen a large demand for higher-density flatted developments over the last few years. Our recent development of 146 new flats at Western Harbour for Forth Ports and 81 flats and two commercial units for Teague Homes (UK) have demonstrated this. We are working with a number of partners in both the public and private sector and collaborating in the delivery of a number of mixed-tenure and mixed-use developments targeted specifically at millennials.
My role is to build and lead a team of design managers, building services managers and construction planners to let Hart Builders design and build these larger, complex brownfield sites. These bigger projects will build on our strong track record in the delivery of affordable housing for housing associations and local authorities throughout Edinburgh, the Lothians, Fife and the Scottish Borders.
Housing and construction are exciting places to be. Hart Builders is keen to encourage young people – but in particular girls – to consider a career in construction and ensure they understand the many career paths they can follow. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses have played a positive part in shaping an outlook that is good, but there is still a lot more work to be done – we need more females in construction.
My advice to girls considering their future is to examine the variety of roles in the construction sector. No two days are the same, skills are transferable – allowing you to try different roles – and it is really is a positive environment to be in with a network of strong role models to provide support and encouragement.
I think parents and teachers can be such positive influencers on children and young people, and I would encourage all teachers, parents, family members and influencers out there to take a leaf out of my parent’s book – keep telling girls they can be anything they want.
Shona Wilson, who is technical services manager at Hart Builders, is a chartered engineer and a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.