Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role?
My name is Lindsay Mellum, Design Project Manager at WSP in the Middle East, and I’m currently in charge of leading the design team on a major project in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Can you tell us about your proudest engineering milestone/achievement?
Fixing up the cladding of The Address downtown after the fire in 2015 was a big highlight for me, along with helping update the UAE codes as part of the project. This really set me on the new path of fixing existing buildings.
Have you witnessed or experienced gender bias?
I suppose my unique perspective is that when I left the United States to move to Dubai for better opportunities as a woman in engineering (which people don't believe me when I say that!) I was working for a very old fashioned, male dominated construction company. As one of the very few women designers, I was required to answer phones to cover for the receptionist. I mean, doing that was fun but it wasn't what I was hired to do and it was taking me away from my work. When I raised it with my employer I was told ‘that's how it will always be… girls always answer the phones’. So, I just knew I would never be given the same opportunities being at a company with that mindset. Out here going to project sites or offices with no women’s restrooms is another example, and a subtle way of saying you're not welcome here or we weren't expecting you to be here. I know it's likely from a very practical, budgetary perspective, but it's also coming from a very limited view of what somebody in construction looks like and a misconception that women would not be coming to site. Working in Saudi as a woman was a lot easier than I expected. Although I still had to fight to keep a women's restroom in our office, so there is still some work to do.
Where do you think we are at as an industry in relation to gender balance?
I've been in the Middle East for 12 years, so gender balance has gotten a lot better. But it I think it's a hard habit for the industry to break.
It has been really nice to see the shift to how the industry and companies are kind of waking up to gender balance issues and encouraging female voices in engineering. I think a lot more can be done to get women into leadership roles, and because of their value as leaders – not to fill a spot on a board. When I first got here, I thought I would have to learn to play golf if I wanted any mobility in this industry. I think we're slowly moving past the boys’ club mentality and it's becoming less shocking to see women at the table.
How can we hold ourselves accountable as an industry when it comes to Gender Balance?
I think the next step is having stronger regulations about equality in place and for companies to write their own policies to create fairer workplaces that encourage women to shine. Gender is really only one part of it. We do need to do better for terms of equal opportunities with colour, nationality, grade, and background. There's a lot of ingrained biases that are holding people back.
Another question is what can we do as companies and industries to put policies in place to allow people the opportunity to feel like they've got a voice and like they can speak up? For example, there were times I was afraid, and I know friends in the industry still are afraid, to tell their employers they're pregnant. A woman should be able to have a family and speak up when they feel like they're being passed over for roles. So, empowering people in leadership to look at everybody impartially is important, as well as not making assumptions for what they want based on a person’s gender.
What do you think the future of engineering looks like for women?
Change is slow and incremental. Surely we do things faster in the Middle East though – there's no walk, it's only run! So, I hope that momentum can be applied to women in the industry. The momentum to women's rights has given me a lot of hope. For example, it was really exciting to be working in KSA last year as things were changing so fast, and I'm excited to see how far that goes and then how that translates to the workplace. There are a lot of young Saudi women in our project office and they fantastic additions to the client’s team. I hope that mindset continues upwards like that and at a rapid pace.
What would you like to share with the next generation of women considering a STEM career?
I would say just do it. Your voices are needed in the industry, you bring a unique perspective and approach that is missing. The industry needs more women, and don't worry – we should have the restroom issues sorted out by the time you get here!