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How I'm breaking down barriers in a man's world

08 March 2021

Twenty-four-year-old Zainab AlHamdani, from Oman, is a young civil engineer making her mark in a male-dominated society. Here, she tells us more in our Women Like Us series.

How I'm breaking down barriers in a man's world
Zainab AlHamdani, from Oman, tells us how she's proving her worth as a civil engineer

My desire to be an engineer was grounded as early as during my time in high school. It being a male-dominated profession didn’t deter me from pursuing this dream.

After high school in Oman, I worked hard to secure a scholarship to study civil engineering in one of the top universities in the UK, the University of Liverpool. This was a dream come true.

Of course, given my Arab background and culture, my family and I were initially worried about me living alone in a foreign country. The reality of moving to this foreign and sophisticated country gave me mixed feelings, of anxiety and thrill at the same time.

But I had to do this for myself and my future. I wanted to solve future engineering challenges using the best knowledge and skills.

Being a female who studies abroad is seen to be a big deal in the Arab culture, as typically, women do not go abroad. They tend to continue their education close to home and family. However, being independent and exploring new cultures, living on my own and gaining my educational experience was a priority for me.

Civil engineering, as I learnt both in university and after university, is quite male dominated. In my class, 80% of the students were male. This encouraged me to work twice as hard to earn my merit and demystify the stereotype that men are naturally better at engineering than women.

How ICE membership has helped

Studying in the UK exposed me to several opportunities, apart from learning from the best in the world.

It’s during my studies that I joined ICE, in 2016. This gave me access to ICE’s library and its unlimited digital resources, which significantly contributed to my coursework as a student.

Additionally, attending ICE online events and courses did and continues to uplift my knowledge, skills and exposure.

Currently, I’m a member of Oman ICE, where I was recently elected to be a committee member in charge of events management. In this capacity, I’ve had the chance to organise local events and plan CPD workshops, where other engineers can learn more about emerging civil engineering trends, technologies, challenges and solutions. These events also allow members to network and share knowledge.

Most recently, I also participated in the Brunel International Lecture Series as a panellist, where we discussed how the engineering community can deliver a carbon neutral and resilient society by mid-century.

As a graduate engineer, I’m confident that my membership in ICE along with my work experience will significantly contribute to my chartership.

Learning on the job

Following my graduation in 2017, I was fortunate once again to join Atkins Global as a graduate civil engineer. This opportunity gave me the chance to transfer my academic knowledge into solving real-life problems in Oman.

During my short stay at Atkins Oman, I’ve had the chance to work on challenging civil and infrastructure projects. My first project at Atkins was the master planning and infrastructure design of Khazaen Economic City; a flagship industrial and logistics hub spanning 52 million sqm.

I also got the chance to work in the construction field as a civil inspector on two building projects, including PDO Residential Development and currently Bank Sohar HQ building enabling works package.

This experience been positive, by improving my communication skills, and challenging my limits, especially when dealing directly with clients or local authority bodies. Atkins has also enabled me to reinforce my technical skills and knowledge by giving me access to better design software and an experienced pool of staff to learn from.

Together, we can break down the stereotypes

In my career so far, I’ve had to overcome assumptions that I don’t know how to do my job on the basis of my gender. I believe women working in fields such as engineering go to work every day with the task of proving their worth and abilities to male colleagues.

However, I am proud that Oman, unlike many other countries, boasts of more women in engineering than men. It goes to show that women have woken up to breaking the stereotypes by entrenching their position in this ‘perceivably’ male-dominated industry.

I encourage fellow young women like myself to join this profession and not to shy away.

  • Zainab AlHamdani, graduate engineer at Atkins at Atkins