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Shining a light on our women this International Women's Day

Today is International Women’s Day, so we caught up with two of our own, Varsha Wylie, Principal Engineer, and Rachel Mutalima, Programme Design Manager…

Today is International Women’s Day, so we caught up with two of our own, Varsha Wylie, Principle Engineer, and Rachel Mutalima, Programme Design Manager…


Varsha Wylie, Principal Engineer

What made you get into engineering?

I’ve always been interested in chemistry and maths so, when I discovered chemical engineering, it was almost like everything I like coming together as one. Except I soon found out a lot of physics was involved as well! That didn’t stop me from enjoying the subject matter though.

How has your experience as a woman in engineering been so far?

I think there are opportunities and challenges in engineering for both men and women with working long hours or travelling far away from home, especially those with young families.

I started my career in a ‘design and build’ contracting firm and spent a long time on sites during construction and commissioning. This gave me really good experience and shaped me to be the engineer I am today. I had to adapt to working in a male-dominated industry but reading engineering at university already sets women up for that.

Have there been any barriers?

I’ve not come across any barriers as such as my managers and mentors, albeit men, have always been very supportive and encouraging throughout my career.

How can we encourage teenagers to get into engineering?

Perhaps there should be more site visits to engineering facilities such as the treatment plants, industrial facilities, chemical plants etc, so teenagers can meet engineers and see how interesting the engineering world is.

Rachel Mutalima, Programme Design Manager

How long have you worked in engineering?

I have 18 years’ experience in civil engineering with a focus on water and wastewater network design. I spent some of this time in Zambia but the majority of my experience has been from the UK water industry. I’ve had some interesting – and sometimes very challenging – experiences as a woman in engineering, which have contributed to making me a more well-rounded engineer and manager.

How difficult is it for a woman to work in


Being a woman in a male-dominated sector has had its ups and downs. As a positive, it felt really rewarding to work in a technical field and work on some complex projects and do what I do best. However, at times, I felt I had to work extra hard to ensure my voice was heard.

When I first got into engineering at university, it was very frustrating because my success was seen as the result of the institution making up the quota for females in engineering and not because I’d earned it. It felt as though my hard work was devalued but it also pushed me to work even harder.

In my working life, I’ve found that because of the male-dominated nature of the sector, I’ve

had to adapt both my professional and personal style to fit in and be accepted. Over the years, I’ve had different experiences to male colleagues, like being on sites with no female facilities.  

How confident are you for the future?

I must say, the tide has started to turn recently. With more emphasis globally on diversity and inclusion, I’m noticing more acceptance and openness for the differences that women bring to the table.

We can now actually get on with the work and thrive rather than spending so much time trying to prove ourselves, and we need to just keep encouraging women to put themselves forward for more technical roles.