Maddelon Holt-Smith went to a small all girls catholic school in the country where engineering wasn’t offered as an elective. Now a Junior Site Engineer with John Holland, she talks to us about her experience and gives advice to any young females out there interested in undertaking an Engineering degree at University.
Can you tell us how you started your career in the industry?
Initially I was really interested in mining and was keen to get into this industry any way that I could – I was even prepared to drive trucks before I got into University to study mining engineering. As the mining industry took a deep dive for the worse, I changed my degree to Civil Engineering where I fell in love with everything to do with how the built environment works.
Was a career in Engineering presented to you as an elective in High School? If so, how supportive or unsupportive were your teachers/career advisors when choosing this career path? Do you think they could do more to support young females choosing Engineering as a career?
I went to a small all girls catholic school in the country and engineering wasn’t offered as an elective. Physics wasn’t even offered unless you wanted to do it via correspondence. I think at schools like this they really need good professional women in the STEM industry to come in and explain what is involved with certain jobs such as engineering before they reach year 10. It could also be a good idea to run pathways programs where girls can see what it is like to be an engineer before they have to choose it as a career when getting into university.
What advice would you give to young girls wanting to undertake Engineering studies at University?
I would say if they’re going to do it, it needs to be because they want to do it not because they feel pressured to do it. Even though we are trying to raise the gender equality bar, it is still a very difficult degree and the girls will need support to get them through. I think the civil engineering degree, even though it is theory based really prepares you for the pressures and expectations of the industry. I look at my work ethic and capability compared to colleagues who studied construction management and I am miles ahead and I believe it’s because I had to work so hard to get my degree. I am a firm believer than you can do anything you set your mind to. Passion is infectious!
Who do you think are the leading employers when it comes to diversity?
I think the big tier 1 companies are definitely striving to push for a shift in the industry, particularly John Holland, Lendlease, Mirvac, CPB and Laing O’Rourke.
(If John Holland) was this a factor in your decision-making process when choosing a company to complete your graduate programme with?
Yes it was – when I went through all of my interviews and my initial experience I didn’t feel like I was chosen in the graduate program just because I was a woman, which I think it is important. Although gender equality is a big issue, I still believe that you should be the right person for the job so that you are set up to succeed. I am currently part of the Celebrate Women in John Holland committee where I work closely with a small team of champions for women from a range of roles (including the CEO). We are aiming to work with the strategy team to ensure the policies and initiatives reflect the women who are in the business and strive to make this industry a great one for everyone.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I would like to one day own my own company in the industry, focusing on building resilience in everything we do.
Interested in learning more about studying an Engineering degree? The University of Sydney are creating the perfect environment for STEM's future female leaders. Read more here.