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White Brick Wall

"Engineering is everywhere. From the place you live to the clean water you drink; from good quality food production to roads that take us from one place to another; from offices to work, schools for education and hospitals for health and so on. Everything exists because of Engineering. I use my Engineering know-how and experience to solve unique real-life problems and design buildings, helping shape everyday life and facilitate high living standards."

What is a Structural Engineer? Learn More on our roles page.

What made you want to become a Structural Engineer? 

Growing up. I wanted to be a lot of things. I wanted to be a website designer, a fashion designer, writer, photographer and even a businesswoman.  However, I never imagined being an engineer. When I started exploring my career options with my physics teacher in A-levels, I stumbled across engineering through further research into the career options. As I didn't know what I wanted to do in my life, I used the process of elimination, i.e. I removed the possibilities I knew I didn't want to be following and narrowed it down to structural engineering. It was only after my 12 weeks summer placement as a student engineer at Jacobs Engineering in 2008 that I was 100% confident about my career choice.

What route did you take to becoming a Structural Engineer?

I followed a traditional route into Engineering. I studied mathematics, chemistry and physics at A-level and then applied for a Master's in Civil and Structural Engineering at the University of Leeds. I graduated in 2011 with a 1st class Hons. and joined WSP as a Graduate Engineer. I enjoyed the design modules at university, which was another hint for me to select working for a design office or a consultant, rather than on-site working for a contractor.

White Brick Wall
Najwa Jawahar, BEng (Hons_edited.jpg

Until you have a go at it yourself, you wouldn't know whether you enjoy being an Engineer or not.”

Hello, I'm Najwa Jawahar, 33 years old and I've been working within the Industry for 9 years and 2 months. My current role is Associate Structural Design Engineer at WSP. I specialise in designing buildings ranging from single storey to tall buildings in commercial, residential, retail and hospitals. If the human body were a building, then an Architect decides what it will look like, its features, size etc. The organs in the body are like heating and ventilation or lighting systems making the building perform, whereas the skeleton is the structure that allows the building to stand up. That's what I design. 


What does a typical day at work look like for you?

A typical day at work as a Structural Engineer varies tremendously in a week, from developing structural concepts to solving design challenges and communicating with my team. I use computer models to analyse the behaviour of structures, produce calculations and sketches, think about how they will be constructed and oversee the production of drawings - working with architects, services engineers and ultimately, the client. I then collaborate with the contractor to ensure that the building is constructed safely. 

As a Structural Engineer, I work closely with the client, Architect, Project Managers, Quantity Surveyors, Geologists, Transport Planner, Mechanical, Electrical and Public Health Engineers and more. In addition to that, I work closely with contractors when the project is on-site. In summary, I work with a large number of people at work, and communication is one of the critical skills required to become a successful engineer. 

In addition to my technical side, I take pride in mentoring and training young engineers and collaborate with schools to inspire the next generation.

It sounds strange, but engineering is really all about solving problems. I relish the challenge of being faced with something that may seem insurmountable, though I know that with some creative thinking, it is possible. Structural engineering is so varied; our problems come in all shapes and sizes. Whether it's for design: coming up with a structural concept for ambitious architecture within the constraints of a tight site. 

Through analysis, we see how best to translate the sketches we have into something we can analyse with maths and science. Even construction: nothing is ever straightforward on-site – as a structural engineer, I must come up with solutions to work around the issues sites throw at us.

What are some challenges you personally face at work?

"The best part about my job is that I have the power to influence society and make a positive contribution to the lives of real people. The buildings I design become homes, offices, schools, shopping centres, hospitals etc. hence an essential ingredient of a healthy and sustainable community."

Some essential skills I have developed while working in the Industry are problem-solving, creativity and effective communication – written and through sketches, risk management, etc. Engineering is more than just technical know-how; it's the ability to take an idea and convert it into reality through an effective combination of maths, physics, common sense and problem-solving. 


The most significant barrier preventing young women from joining the Engineering/Construction sector is misunderstanding what an Engineer does. In the UK, the term ‘Engineer’ is misused. Everyone calls themselves an Engineer, whether it's a printer repair person, an electrician or a gas man. Because of this, the general public doesn't always understand what it actually means to be an Engineer. For this reason, Engineering doesn't appeal as a promising career path to the younger generation, especially young women. 

What advice would you give a young woman thinking about a career in your role? 

Just give it a try. Until you have a go at it yourself, you won't know whether you’d enjoy being an engineer or not. I always recommend younger women apply for summer placements or apprenticeships to get some experience working in a design office.  If you can't find a summer placement, find an engineer on LinkedIn and just ask them questions. 

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Najwa Jawahar

What is it like to be a Female Structural Engineer?

I often come across people who cannot believe that I am a Structural Engineer, because they have a perception that an engineer is a white male wearing a hard hat and muddy boots. Absolutely opposite to who I am; a Muslim woman from a South Asian background. On top of that, there is a misconception of what engineer's do. No, it's not working on site. I work in the office environment for 95% of my time and solve complex problems using mathematics, physics and computational technology, developing engineering ideas. The other 5% of my time is spent on-site making sure buildings are constructed to match my design and drawings. 

Engineering is predominantly a male-dominant sector. However, we are living in revolutionary times.

Working as a woman in engineering today is quite rewarding because of the constantly changing landscape of the construction industry. The Industry has improved considerably over the last decade, including paternal leave, flexible hours, transparency within the gender pay gap etc. However, considerable effort is still required to make the construction industry truly gender-inclusive. 

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