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Facing my fears to become a Chartered Engineer

30 September 2022

Hannah Speed shares how she found the support to pass her professional review despite anxiety, poor mental health and dyslexia.

Facing my fears to become a Chartered Engineer
It was a relief to have reached this professional milestone after years of hard work. Image credit: Hannah Speed

LinkedIn research found that women tend to apply to fewer (20%) jobs than men.

From my experience, the same applies for ICE professional reviews.

Why is this? Is it an issue of confidence?

I quizzed some of these men on how they knew they were ready to go for their professional review.

Many of them replied that the important thing is to answer confidently.

I’d rather describe the steps to finding the correct answer, than offer something I’m unsure about.

But is this the right approach?

My confidence challenge at work

Between my dyslexia and history of poor mental health, I sometimes struggle with some aspects of my job.

I find myself questioning my ability and worrying about whether I’m meeting others’ expectations.

When given a task, I can find it hard to understand the big picture, then break it down to smaller parts and start at the right point.

When I’m ready to seek feedback, I feel anxious about whether I’ve done a good enough job.

Sometimes I might struggle with time management, going between being absorbed by a task and flying through it, or feeling stuck and barely making any progress at all.

This has made it difficult to feel confident in my ability as an engineer.

Identifying the support needed

While pregnant with my first child, these symptoms became worse.

I sought help through “Right to Work”, and stumbled upon Remploy.

The support and validation I got through Remploy helped me develop a Wellness Action Plan.

In this plan, I:

  • identified specific areas I struggle with,
  • highlighted the signs I’m struggling to both myself and to colleagues, and
  • implemented proactive and reactive steps to help with my health, wellbeing and productivity.

By having an independent organisation involved, I felt able to approach colleagues about reasonable adjustments to help me be more effective at work.

I now make sure my colleagues are aware of my challenges, and that they know where I expect to be at different points of a project.

The ICE's Benevolent Fund can offer workplace and wellbeing support through a range of services available to members and their families. Some former members may also qualify for support.

Find out more

My confidence challenge: the professional review

I started asking colleagues and friends for advice on succeeding at the ICE professional review.

Some of the common themes were to be:

  • assertive
  • confident
  • ambitious
  • authoritative
  • bold
  • charismatic

The focus seemed to be on being able to answer quickly and smoothly, with easy recollection of facts.

Not so much being able to work through a question and present a reasoned argument, which tends to be more my approach.

Leading up to my chartership review, some of my dyslexia and anxiety symptoms became more evident.

Despite lots of reading and revision, I can forget a lot of information over the course of a few weeks.

So, I prepared revision materials but left intense memorising of facts and figures until as late as possible.

My poor working memory, a symptom of dyslexia which increases in stressful situations, often leaves me mentally searching for information. This can come across as incompetent, or at best, unprepared.

Asking for help from friends and colleagues

In the early stages of my preparation, a friend outside work was training to become a life coach.

Talking to her helped to structure my development plan, identifying any knowledge and skills gaps and coming up with SMART actions to address them.

My manager and team were incredibly supportive as I sometimes struggled in meetings and was more anxious about my performance. They provided support, reassurance, and a listening ear.

Weekly team meetings with open discussions about health, wellbeing and happiness helped me to share my feelings and acknowledge the struggles my colleagues experience, too.

The empathy developed in those meetings promoted collaboration, which then led to more productivity.

Whenever I received positive feedback, I took note of it. I relied on positive affirmations to reassure myself that I was ready to go for review.

Asking for help from the ICE

I spoke to an ICE reviewer who gave me some of the best advice.

Did you know?

ICE reviewers are formally trained to deal/support/interview those with all forms of disability including neurodiversity candidates suffering from anxiety, phobias and dyspraxia.

We discussed the top priorities – being able to keep myself and others safe through design and site visits, and being able to do my job effectively, even if this meant just knowing where to look for help.

We identified some of the highlights of my career so far, which focused more on how I reacted to challenges.

Their perspective was useful - they expect people to be a bit nervous!

When I felt ready, I sent a formal request to the ICE to accommodate my needs for my professional review.

For example, that I’d be allowed to type the questions during the interview so that I could better interpret them and stay focused while answering.

This was very important for me, and it helped ease anxiety before the review. Thus, I was better able to demonstrate my knowledge and understanding.

What I found most helpful

When I passed my professional review, I was so grateful to everyone who helped me overcome the challenges in my career.

It’d been a difficult journey, but the success was incredibly rewarding. It was a relief to have reached this milestone after years of hard work.

Reflecting on my experience, I wonder how we could support a wider, more diverse pool of engineers to apply for review at a more consistent ‘point of readiness’.

The things I found most encouraging included:

  • Specific, regular feedback.
  • Having supportive peers.
  • Role models with different personalities and approaches.
  • Support to set a plan to get from where I am to where I want to be, broken down into steps with intermediate deadlines. (While I was able to do this mostly by myself, it was helpful to run it past someone to make sure I wasn’t missing anything).
  • Having someone to check in on me from time to time, to help me through times of low confidence.

As someone with dyslexia, helping others understand that we all learn differently and discussing adjustments for working memory difficulties allowed me to perform at my best.

I focused on demonstrating my ability as an engineer, not just my communication style.

As someone who, despite lots of practice, can come across as a bit clumsy, it helped to know that I wouldn’t fail my review simply for not presenting as smoothly as others.

Our differences can be our strengths

Businesses benefit from having a diverse workforce, and everyone benefits from feeling included and supported. Our differences can often be our strengths.

From small project teams to international institutions, we can reap the rewards of diversity by facilitating equity.

Let’s make sure we’re all well equipped to succeed.

Is something stopping you from going for professional review?

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  • Hannah Speed, civil engineer at Amey