Building a career in engineering
Senior Tunnel Engineer Sophie Payne is not just managing some of the UK’s biggest infrastructure projects – she has also been named as one of the best women working in construction.
Since taking part in the Women’s Development Programme, designed and delivered by gender diversity specialist Skills 4, Sophie has won a promotion, picked up an internal award and the accolade of engineer of the year for civils/infrastructure in the 2017 Women in Construction awards.
“I would never have thought about putting myself forward before the training but the programme gave me the confidence to go for it and I feel honoured to have been judged a winner in my field,” she said.
A Chartered civil engineer with the Institution of Civil Engineers, Sophie has worked on a range of projects for Atkins, one of the world’s most respected engineering, design and project management consultancies.
Experienced in feasibility studies through to detailed design and provision of site support, Sophie’s major project experience includes Crossrail as the Lead Asset Protection Engineer at Paddington Station, HS2 preliminary design for Country South, Victoria Station Upgrade Cat 3 Check and currently the Thames Tideway Tunnel Central Cat 3 Check.
Sophie learned about the Women’s Development Programme through the company’s web portal and having recently gained professional status, decided to apply.
“I was not sure where I wanted to go next in my career so knowing part of the programme was future-focused really appealed,” she said. “Initially I was a bit dubious about it being a course just for women but working in that environment was really useful.
“It meant we were brave enough to share often very personal stories. There were delegates from different parts of the business and the country on my course who developed a bond. Many of us meet up for a drink when we can, drop each other emails and we have formed a social media network where we continue to share information.”
As part of the training, Sophie got to meet senior women in the organisation who had previously been through the programme, which she said was inspirational in terms of seeing how they had progressed in Atkins.
“The training really gets you to explore yourself,” she said. “When you are doing the day job there is not the chance to reflect on your career. I picked up so many tips and tricks I hadn’t thought of while it made me focus on my own future and set my own goals.”
One of her goals was to be promoted – something she achieved within a year of the programme. “I am now leading larger projects, with a team which is growing all the time,” she said. “I want to take my role as far as I can then hopefully have the opportunity to go for a higher-level management position.”
Other tips picked up on the Women’s Development Programme which Sophie now uses regularly is how to better plan her time, how to portray and present herself in different situations to others and different communication techniques.
“Our trainer was fantastic and inspirational,” she said. “She had so much experience to share and interesting stories to tell. Any question asked of her elicited an intelligent response. She has also kept in touch as a mentor and a friend, which has been invaluable.”
Sophie, who graduated in civil engineering from the University of Bristol, said while the construction industry was still male-dominated and the perception of training specifically for women was sometimes seen as “there goes the suffragettes”, attitudes were changing.
“Atkins runs similar modules for men who equally benefit from this sort of training,” she said. “There are more women rising to senior positions and demonstrating that it is possible to have a career in construction – a career that I love.
“The Women’s Development Programme brought together colleagues who now network, bounce ideas off each other and become role models for others. It has certainly helped me to be a lot more confident and to take control rather than waiting for things to happen.”