'When I was thinking about a career in engineering at school I wasn't sure if it would suit me or nor, ' says Heather Stanley, now managing director of the UK arm of Canadian structures consultant Yolles. To find out, she decided to take a civils sandwich course, which involved spending a year on site. Her theory was that if she didn't like it, she would still have a degree and could use it to pursue another career.
She spent the year working on a 16 storey office block in London's Kings Cross with contractor Sir Robert McAlpine and enjoyed it so much that she decided that structural, rather than civil, engineering was the career for her.
But she also decided that her career was more likely to progress if she worked for a consultant. It was the early 1980s and her contracts manager warned her that it would be difficult for her to work her way through the ranks as contractor because prevailing attitudes to women would count against her.
Instead she joined Arup where she says she really developed her understanding of building structures. After four and a half years Stanley had become chartered, the late 1980s building boom was kicking in, and she wanted to take on more and bigger projects.
The opportunities failed to arise at Arup, so she left, joining Waterman and doubling her salary in the process. There she found she had to develop a wider range of skills as Waterman was a much smaller firm.
'At Arup there was always someone you could ask, but at Waterman you had to be a jack of all trades, ' she says.
After another four and a half years she left to pursue her ambitions with another consultant, Robert West & Partners. The firm had just taken over the London Borough of Bromley's construction and engineering team, and Stanley had to the job of combining it with the firm's existing skill base to turn it into a more multidisciplinary business.
Four year itch set in again in the mid-1990s, and a job at Yolles came up. Yolles had opened a London office in the late 1980s when working for Canadian property developer Olympia & York on the Canary Wharf development in London's Docklands.
The Yolles London office was down to two staff, as Canary Wharf phase two had stalled, but Stanley joined just as Yolles and Waterman had been taken on to work on Canary Wharf's Riverside development. Since then Yolles has expanded to a core staff of around 35, fuelled by work on new tower blocks at the Heron Quay development, just south of Canary Wharf.
'My aim is to diversify away from where we are. Most of our work is on the commercial office side, ' she says. The aim is to create a stable stream of workload, rather than to go for rapid growth. As a result Yolles is starting to go into sport, retail and residential work and is looking at work for contractors on privately financed government projects.