International Women's Day 2019
To celebrate International Women's Day 2019 CIBSE conducted a series of interviews with different women across the industry.
Rimmy Vij, Associate Director at WSP Façade Engineering and member of the Society of Façade Engineers (SFE), shares with us her story below.
Rimmy Vij is a Chartered Façade Engineer and has been working at WSP Façade Engineering since 2013. With an academic background in Architecture and Façade Engineering, she has worked on interesting projects, gaining significant experience in the design and construction of a variety of buildings with signature architects and blue-chip clients.
Rimmy worked for other leading Façade Contractors before joining WSP and has experience in developing bespoke design solutions, which enables her to have a sensitive and collaborative contribution to the work of a Lead Façade Engineer.
Rimmy is continually involved with the SFE and has been organising SFE’s Façade of the Year Competition since 2016; promoting the importance of this relatively new profession.
1. When you began your career, did you ever imagine that you would be a leader in a male-dominated profession?
I started working in 2005 as an Architectural Apprentice while studying Architecture in University, where I assisted the Principal Architect of a small practice in India. During this time I was given an opportunity to lead the concept design for an entry to an Architectural Design competition for India’s first ever Night Shopping Centre in Hyderabad.
The entry won and the project was awarded to our company, and winning this project for my employer was obviously a great achievement for me as an Architectural student. I graduated in 2007 and started working as a Project Architect in the same practice. While working as an Architect in India, I worked on the Façade Design for a Tennis Stadium and Sports Complex, which inspired me to pursue my Master’s degree in Façade Engineering at University of Bath, UK. This was my gateway for entering the field of Engineering and it has been nearly 10 years since I started working as a Façade Engineer in the UK, the last 6 with WSP.
I must admit it used to feel intimidating initially when you find you are the only woman in a meeting room full of men, but this has equally helped surge in my confidence level.
Looking back, I never imagined that I would have come this far and probably would still be working as an Architect in India had I not come to UK to study Engineering. This has been possible with the support and encouragement from my family who believe in me.
2. What is a valuable leadership lesson you have learnt?
I lead a team of young Façade Engineers within WSP and the most valuable lesson I have learnt is to pay attention and calmly listen to other people - especially my team members who are sometimes hesitant to share their views. This not only empowers them to speak up, but also helps build a trusting relationship with them. I encourage my team to always challenge me and each other. Being a leader does not mean that I know more than them, or they know any less than me, as a team we recognise each of our strengths and weaknesses. I find working this way we find a well thought out solution to problems and our day to day engineering tasks.
3. What has been the most significant barrier in your career?
When I began my career there was a significant lack of female role models in both Architecture and Façade Engineering. This has improved, but the gender balance in these fields has still not been reached. Although on its own I didn’t consider this a barrier, the resulting lack of peer support was felt. When I was employed by WSP in 2013, I was the only female member of the team and did not have a fellow senior female engineer who I could look up to. However, I did have support of many male role models in the team and Façade Engineering industry who were very supportive and encouraging me to take up challenges. Now in 2019, we have nearly 40% female engineers within the Façade Engineering team at WSP and I hope we will continue to improve this.
4. Have other women inspired you and how?
There are a lot of women in my life who inspire me. On a personal level, my grandmother who is now in her eighties inspires me all the time. She has seen both good and tough times, but she has always been strong and had a positive outlook on life throughout. This has brought a lot of courage and a sedulous attitude within our family.
On the career front, Jane Richards, Head of Structural Discipline at WSP has been inspiring. She, like me, joined WSP very early in her career and simultaneously worked and raised a young family. Now she has reached new heights within the company and I have always seen her as calm and approachable. This is something I aspire to become.
5. What do you think might be the biggest challenge for this next generation of women in forging their careers?
The biggest challenge, in my opinion, is changing the mindset for a lot of people that being a woman doesn’t necessarily make one weak or vulnerable and that women can be trusted with a lot of responsibilities at work. I am currently in the early phase of my career and raising a 4 year old daughter. I am able to manage both professional and family responsibilities because I have support from my husband, who shares equal parental duties. Not all women have this choice and both men and women need to support each other in accepting this change and balance each of their careers.
6. What advice would you give to other women in your industry?
“Hold your breath and just dive right in. You will swim.”
I would advise them to never undermine their capabilities and always consider them to be equally competent with their male peers. You have been employed to perform a job you have been found credible for. I would also encourage the female engineers to help and support other female associates in their professional and personal network. We must in our capacity as leaders, raise the awareness that females are still under-represented in the field of engineering and we can work to close the gap.