What made you want to step up into the role as Associate Director?
I want to be a female role model for younger members in the team, given that there are so few for me and my colleagues! I also wanted to be recognised and respected for what I brought to the team and be on a par with those around me who were doing a similar job.
How did you get to where you are now? Did you always know what you wanted to do?
I’ve always enjoyed maths, physics and art and so I got a degree in Architectural Engineering from the University of Leeds. Whilst at uni, I was able to learn about all types of engineering involved with designing a building including civil, structural, building services and architecture. Once I graduated, I wasn’t set on being a structural engineer and applied for roles in building services engineering as well as façade engineering – but that wasn’t to be! Eventually I was able to find a graduate structural engineering role at a small firm (around 5 people) in a quiet town close to where I’m from. I spent the first two years of my career focusing on either small residential projects or large-scale civil engineering schemes – such as water treatment plants and reservoirs.
I grew restless after a while and yearned for the bright lights on London. I had a day where I dashed round London going from interview to interview in a bid to find a new role as an Engineer. I was fortunate to get a number of offers but went with AECOM as they have offices across the globe and a wide variety of projects! It was a goal of mine to become a chartered engineer, bringing with it industry recognition and confirmation of where I am in my career. I was able to achieve this after a couple of years of AECOM and a lot of hard work. Following this, I was promoted to Senior Engineer. I have worked on more challenging, demanding projects during recent years which has led to me getting promoted to a Principal Engineer and finally an Associate Director in October 22.
That’s not to say I’ve always known I wanted to reach Associate Director level in structural engineering. I did nearly move to the “dark side” of contracting as a Design Manager but ultimately, I’m glad that my boss talked me out of it!
Being involved with innovative technologies and at the forefront of change in the industry is hugely motivating.”
My name is Kim Smith, I’m 34 and I work for AECOM, a global construction consulting firm operating in over 150 countries. I’m an Associate Director in the London & South East Structures team. I’ve worked in the construction industry for nearly 10 years but it’s in my blood – my Dad is a steel fabricator!
I’ve worked on a variety of projects throughout my career, from large scale mixed use new developments to the refurbishment of existing structures. I’ve been fortunate to work on some award winning scheme, such as the Institute of Physics but my current focus is on examining the embodied carbon of our projects and promoting ways to reduce this.
What does your Associate Director role actually involve?
A lot! Stepping up to Director level has required more of a mindset change than previous career progressions. Primarily, my responsibilities now revolve around management of projects, work winning, mentorship, training and seeing the bigger picture within both my company and the industry. I’m also accountable for the work that goes out the door and so I have a very active checking role – ensuring that our demanding quality standards are met and mistakes eliminated! This takes the form of reviewing analysis models in detail, checking and marking up drawings and editing technical reports.
What is it like being a woman in a Senior position and how does it feel? Especially as overall, the Construction Industry is still male dominated in senior/boardroom positions…
It feels like an achievement to be here and I’m proud of it, but I definitely do still get imposter syndrome. The industry is certainly still male dominated, and I can often find that I am one of only a few women in a position of seniority in project meetings which can be intimidating.
There are issues in the industry regarding unconscious bias – men being looked to for the right answers (especially if they don’t like the answer I’ve given), being called “love” and people apologising to you for swearing or pardoning their French as though I’ve not got a potty mouth myself!
This can all sometimes feel daunting, but I need to remember that I was promoted into this position for a reason and my opinions and experience are as valid as everyone else’s.
As someone in your role, how do you deal with challenges?
By and large, I will deal with a challenge head on. I find that a problem shared is a problem halved and will regularly call upon those around me to help find the best way forward. I’m fortunate that I have people, both at home and in work, that I trust and that I can rely upon to help me out and use as a sounding board.
How do you stay motivated to keep going everyday and push past the challenges of your role? What actually keeps you going?
Personally, I don’t want to be known as someone that under delivers and I want people to know that they can rely on me. I take great pride in doing a good job. I am also motivated by those around me and helping shape their career development. I like to be able to have a natter with my colleagues and discuss non-work related items.
Being involved with innovative technologies and at the forefront of change in the industry is hugely motivating. I like the idea that I have the ability to make a lasting change in the industry at a time when it is desperately needed.
Lastly – I’d be lying if I said I didn’t work to get paid!
Despite any challenges you may face, what’s the best thing you like about your role?
A cliché as it sounds, my main reason for turning up to work every day is the people. I’m very fortunate to work with a great, ambitious team that are trying to change the industry and create a better future. I’m lucky enough to be an integral part of this and offer management and mentorship and advice to other engineers.
I also enjoy the challenge of being accountable for the design of complex buildings, finding ways to make a building stand up whilst incorporating the architect’s vision!
"For any young woman aspiring to progress to any senior level in the industry, there is still work to do but the industry is changing. Have conviction in your opinions and don’t be intimidated to speak your mind!"