A woman who helped her parents build a house when she was 11 years old and later became a successful civil engineer today won a prestigious business award.
Michelle McDowell, who has worked on high profile projects including the £70M redevelopment of London’s Royal Albert Hall, was named Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year.
She is chairman of BDP’s civil and structural engineering business and is one of only a handful of women in the UK on the board of such a company.
McDowell, from Northern Ireland, said she hoped she was a role model who would encourage girls to consider a career in the male-dominated world of engineering.
She said she remembers being influenced by helping out as a young girl when her parents built their own house in Northern Ireland, and later went to a course for girls interested in engineering after her maths teacher father gave her a leaflet about the event.
After studying civil engineering at Bristol University, she started her career as a civil engineer and has been responsible for some of BDP’s biggest projects, including schools and city academies, as well as helping secure projects overseas.
“This is a male-dominated profession and there is a tendency for women to drop away and I understand how difficult it can be to walk into a conference or meeting full of men.
“But with a level of determination, there is no reason why girls cannot pursue a career in civil engineering. I see my role as this year’s winner of the award to hopefully inspire and act as a mentor for women in what is historically a male dominated industry and wider business world.”
Only around 2% of board members in civil engineering companies are women, but Ms McDowell said the image of the industry was “out-dated” because of advances in techniques such as computer technology.
“There is nothing better than walking into a school you have designed and seeing students using the new facility.”
McDowell’s championing of engineering has already led to the creation of a scheme to create bursaries to female students of engineering at Cambridge University, and she has promoted social and environmental responsibility in her work.