Engineering Stories - Farah Yassine

Farah Yassine, our Sustainability Resource Management Service Lead, talks about redefining the perceptions that our industry and society have about who designers and engineers should and can be…

Who are you and what is your role?
I am Farah Yassine, the Sustainability Resource Management Service Lead at WSP in the Middle East. I am also the Vice Chair for the Emirates Green Building Council.

Tell us about your engineering journey?
I studied Interior Design for my bachelor degree, and when I was studying I was always the kind of annoying student in the class who would ask, ‘how would people feel when they enter that place?’ or ‘how are we considering the psychological impact of the spaces that we are designing?’. Human-centered design was always something that I really loved and was focused on. I was also curious about the type of building materials we use, where they are coming from and what the environmental impacts are.

Back in the day, human-centered design and environmental design were not core subjects in design majors. After I did my interior design, I worked with a contractor designing and coordinating projects for interior fit-out projects. From this experience, I realised that this is not where my passion was and decided to make a slight shift in my career. I looked at what I was most passionate about, and pursued a master's degree that really resonated with me which specialised in Sustainability of the Built Environment. While completing my master’s degree, I worked as an Assistant Assessor supporting Occupational Phycologists with assessment of leadership qualities for leaders in various business. This strengthened my knowledge in the impact of our environment and surrounding on our behavior. I then joined WSP in 2014 and since progressed into the lead role that I hold today.

Have you experienced any barriers as a female in the industry and how did you overcome these?
There were many initially. Before my first job, people in my immediate network would say ‘it’s better for you to stick with interior design because it’s more girly’. Then in my first job, I had to fight so much more for things like pay parity because I was a female. That was one barrier I experienced as a young female, but I’m proud I fought for it. I have also experienced instances on our project sites where I was looked down at for being female on site. This would change as the work progresses and people would quickly respect me from the experience and knowledge that I would bring to the project.

Today, for some of our projects, I'm the only female on the table - specifically in the KSA projects. There have been times where I’ve experienced inappropriate comments from general conversations on the table, not necessarily sexist comments, but comments that are uncomfortable and make me feel out of place.

As women, I believe we face these types of micro aggressions quite often. And whilst a lot of them are unintentional as many are rooted in the general work culture, it is still a problem that needs to be addressed.

What achievements are you most proud of as an engineer?
My Emirates Green Building Council position is something I am really proud of. Previously the Council’s board was mostly male, but now there are more females than males on the board and all of the members have more diverse backgrounds. I am also proud of being able to redefine the perceptions that society and our industry have about who designers and engineers should and can be.

How do we hold ourselves accountable as an industry when it comes to Gender Balance & Diversity?
One thing we do well at WSP is holding ourselves accountable and responsible, and instilling the confidence in our people to stand up and have the confidence to speak up when they feel uncomfortable or disrespected.

When I see certain things that are happening – for example when us females are told statements like we look dainty in our site PPE gear’ or ‘here come the lovely ladies’ – I feel empowered to tell the person that this is not appropriate and that they should stop this behavior. It's not easy to do that! We should make sure that all minorities feel safe to speak up. I'm confident that I'm not the only lady who is facing these things, but I think we should normalize talking about issues and empower women and all minorities to talk about these issues and to be able address them.

What do you think the future of engineering looks like?
We’re already seeing the shift through Gender programs and the industry is less dominated by males. I have seen the shift myself, given the number of candidates that come through our door, especially for environment and sustainability. There’s a lot of work to do but we are seeing the shift take place.

Ultimately, I see engineering becoming more inclusive, not only for gender balance, but including other minorities. As a result, I believe that we will have better engineering solutions and products. There are many studies that show that higher diversity increases productivity, return on investment among many other benefits, so I think we will become better as an engineering industry when we are more inclusive.

What would you like to share with the next generation of females entering a STEM career?

Don’t be afraid to speak up about your ideas and how you can contribute to the industry, and about anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or disrespected. Always speak up when you feel like you should. As long as you are not disrespectful, do not hold back. Also, always know your value and what you bring to the table. You are going to be an important part of the industry, so make sure you own this and create a space for you to allow yourself to be your best. Demand it. It is your right as it is for every equally qualified male.