How can we improve gender equality and diversity in the infrastructure sector? Why should you choose a career in infrastructure? Can working in infrastructure create a more sustainable future?
These are just a few of the questions answered in our three-part Q&A series that we’ve created to celebrate International Women’s Day 2022. This month, we’re profiling three female leaders at the GI Hub to discuss their thoughts on how we can collectively address inequality in the infrastructure sector. They also share their experiences, insights, and challenges – from personal to industry – on their career in infrastructure.
In part three of our series, we sat down with Monica Bennett, GI Hub’s Director of Thought Leadership.
Monica is a Chartered Chemical Engineer and holds a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) in Environmental Engineering from the University of Queensland, Australia. Monica joined the GI Hub in May 2020 as Director of Thought Leadership where she leads the development, delivery and dissemination of GI Hub’s strategic and innovation-focused programs of work.
Monica has over 15 years of experience in technology, innovation, and engineering consulting. She was a wastewater process engineer for two leading consultancies in Australia and the UK and prior to joining the GI Hub, Monica established and grew Isle Utilities in the APAC region.
Q: This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias, what does this theme mean to you in your work life?
My experience of being a woman in a male-dominated industry has evolved over the last 18 years from being a graduate engineer to becoming a business leader. I found that being a woman in engineering (and later in technology consulting and in infrastructure) was not a barrier to career progression – I was given amazing opportunities, and nobody doubted my ability to do my job well. The bias only became more evident later, when I progressed to a senior business leader and decided to combine this aspiration with becoming a mother.
Over a period of around six years, my career took a backseat while I tried to balance growing a family with growing my career. I gave up my senior role in my previous job, went part-time and moved into what I thought would be a less demanding role. What I then realised (and I am sure many working mothers can relate to) was that it did not turn out to be less demanding. I was working extra hard (at work and at home) for less pay just to maintain my current footing. Having realised this, I went back to working full-time. I know it may sound strange, but for me, balance was re-established when I went back to work full-time, got some support to help with the kids, and started taking on more responsibility and being more ambitious in my career choices.
Q: What is the most important message you want to send out to women thinking about their careers?
Do not dull down your aspirations just because you are having children – take a step back, take the time and seek the support of others before making any major career decisions.
I received some good advice from my manager just before I had my second child, which I regretfully did not take. At the time, I was having a lot of difficulty – physically and emotionally – balancing the demands of full-time work and being a managing director with a small child and a second child on the way. I felt like I just needed to take a step back and move into a less senior position. When I approached my manager with this proposal, he suggested that I take some time out to recharge, but I should keep my job and save any major decisions for when I return. However, this was not what I chose to do.
I was adamant that I just needed this change before taking my maternity leave. In retrospect, I should have taken his advice, giving up my senior role was a premature decision.
Q: In your opinion, why is it important more women work in infrastructure or take up engineering?
It is well-recognised that diversity in thinking, gender, and culture is needed not just to boost the performance of a business, but to help the world solve our unprecedented issues (e.g. climate change). Science and engineering are of course critical elements in solving these problems, and it is important to attract more women (and girls) into STEM industries to encourage this kind of diversity. One way to encourage more women into the sector is to demonstrate that the industry welcomes a variety of opinions, through different ways of solving problems, managing people, and dealing with conflict. We can give greater encouragement to ‘being yourself’ in the workplace.
Q: What has been your biggest achievement?
I am proud of what I built in my last job – starting and growing a boutique consulting firm in Australia from scratch with no clients, no contacts, and very little cash. This experience gave me a huge amount of resilience plus a unique and valuable set of skills that led me to the GI Hub. For me, this is a great sign of success.
This journey was a major achievement but that is not to say I did not make mistakes. I made many, and I attempted to learn from them, although some still haunt me from time to time.
I am proud of what I achieved in my last job as it has allowed me to join the GI Hub and work with the calibre of people that I am working with now, so for me, this is a sign of success.