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Fair play

Working lives Highways

Women engineers may still be a minority, but they play major roles.

Ginny Clarke is chief highway engineer at the Highways Agency.

After A-levels in physics, chemistry and maths, Ginny Clarke took a degree in engineering science at Durham University. During the holidays she worked on site on the construction of the Humber Bridge.

'Although I was only a student engineer, the experience was invaluable and it helped me decide that I wanted to work in highways and particularly with structures. I joined West Midlands County Council's graduate training scheme, where my projects included the development of Birmingham Airport.

'I chose to work with a local authority as they had a well established training scheme, taking on around six graduates a year. Although there was another woman in my intake, the number of female engineers was very small and we are still in the minority.'

Working in a largely male environment can be challenging, but she has found it a positive experience: 'I have always been given a fair hearing and fortunately, even when working at the sharp end on construction sites, I was given the same, if not more opportunities to prove and develop my skills.'

Changes in local authority management brought Clarke to the then Department for Transport's bridges division, before moving, on promotion, into the motorway widening team in the South East.

After the Highways Agency was created in 1994, she was given a wider range of projects to look after before being appointed a divisional director of the traffic, safety and environment division.

In an unplanned change to her career she had the opportunity to broaden her outlook by taking on the role of human resources director: 'Working in a very different environment was a good experience. It enabled me to see the wider picture and be involved in setting the Agency's long term plans.

Now chief highway engineer, Clarke heads the Agency's safety, standards and research directorate and is guardian of the Design manual for roads and bridges.

'We are responsible for maintaining best practice in managing, operating and designing the trunk road network, but also for encouraging innovation and the introduction of new ideas.

'Ensuring design standards and specifications are the most appropriate and creating the safest environment for the different people and vehicles which use our roads is a major responsibility and one we take very seriously, ' she adds.

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