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International Women’s Day Q&A: Heather Butler

Published by , Editorial Assistant
World Pipelines,

World Pipelines talks to Heather Butler, Service Line Manger – Geophysics, Fugro, about her experience as a woman on the front line in the engineering industry, discussing interesting projects, challenges and advice for other women.

International Women’s Day Q&A: Heather Butler

Question: Could you tell me a bit about your current job role and career? Why did you choose to become an engineer and what has been your experience of being a woman within this field so far?

Answer: My current job is managing the land and shallow marine geophysics in the Middle East. My role is very diverse as I look after the department's business and technical side. My favourite part is developing new solutions with my team, to some of the more exciting challenges our clients face.

I started in my field because I loved science and how it was used to solve practical problems. Using physics and maths to translate the ground into tangible and useful information has always been a thrill. My experience as a woman in the field has been mainly positive. I have worked in many different countries with different cultures related to gender expectations. I have also worked onshore and offshore. At all times, I have been in the minority. However, almost all the people I worked with were welcoming and interested in getting the job done. I have made a lot of good friends and have a large fund of stories I can bore my non-engineering friends and family.

Q: What are some of the challenges facing women in the engineering industry?

A: I think one of the biggest issues facing women in the engineering industry is people’s perception of what an engineer looks like. While I have seen more women coming into engineering, the numbers are still small, and generally, they have been exceptional in their field with a real drive and passion for what they do. It seems that we still need to normalise the concept of women in engineering. Challenging the status quo can be difficult, and in some of the more site-oriented engineering fields, the effort of accommodating women can be enough to make businesses cautious when deciding between candidates.

Q: What advice would you give to women interested in a career in this sector?

A: If anyone wants a career in any engineering field – Go for it. Enter your profession as an engineer with the expectation and confidence that you belong. Learn from your mistakes and challenge anyone who challenges you for your gender rather than your skills. Expect to meet many great people and have a lot of fun.

Q: Could you tell me about an interesting project you have worked on or a personal achievement in your career?

A: There is often a difference between prestigious projects and memorable projects, and some of the projects I most remember are the ones where we were able to make a significant and immediate impact. For example, we were called into a half-built power station that was sinking and in danger of falling. We had to devise a way of getting engineering information in and around the half-constructed buildings and devise a stabilisation solution. Less than a year later, the buildings were stable and straight, and the project was back on track. I still see it from time to time, just as I see the offshore wind farms I worked on when I fly back to the UK and the roads and infrastructure that I, and a whole army of engineers from different disciplines, played a small part in creating.

Q: How do you think we can encourage more women to go into the engineering industry? And why do you think it is important that more women choose this career path?

A: We have to start with schools and universities. Engineering is such a multi-faceted field, and we need to be better at getting this across. Companies must ensure they welcome women and realistically challenge themselves where recruitment and retention are problematic. We need more women in engineering because we are good at being engineers, and we can make a difference. We need to have diversity and balance across the engineering disciplines because it is from these different perspectives that the best solutions come.

Q: Have you noticed any recent changes for women in the field and looking to the future, do you think more will come?

A: By its nature, engineering is constantly evolving. Integration of data, use of remote technology and increased use of AI and modelling are fundamentally changing the way we do engineering in many fields. This is moving the focus from the site, increasing flexibility, and potentially opening up more opportunities for women. In the field, legislation is helping to remove barriers, and companies are beginning to see the advantage of having a diverse workforce. All in all, I am optimistic that we continue to see positive change.

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