November 27, 2023 | Articles
Hill International is celebrating and recognizing International Women in Engineering Day on June 23 by showcasing some of its staff in the Middle East and North Africa.
Maha Matraji, Maya Bhaskara Panicker and Ghada Mahmoud Tahounya – besides all being women engineers with Hill International and working on their individual projects – have yet another common element that makes them stand out: in a male-dominated industry, they spare no effort to make a difference on the projects they are assigned to as they earn their livelihoods.
“As a woman in the engineering field, it is very rewarding to see yourself playing an important role in the workplace and it is a fantastic opportunity to build individual confidence as well as develop skills that are in high demand in the construction and project management market in the UAE”, says Maha Matraji, design manager on a mixed-use project under construction in Abu Dhabi.
For contract specialist Maya Bhaskara Panicker, probably the only woman engineer on an infrastructure development off the coast of Abu Dhabi, being an engineer is “something I always looked up to and caught my interest while growing up,” she says, adding that her educational background allowed her to pursue that dream and accomplish tasks in line with her strengths and passion.
As a civil engineer, Panicker also holds a post-graduate diploma in computerized management and is in several industry associations that keep her in touch with the latest in the industry.
The story is a bit different for senior coordination manager Ghada Mahmoud Tahounya, however.
“I always wanted to compete in the man’s world and this was the best field to get through the battle,” says Tahounya, currently working on the extension of the Cairo Festival City Mall, one of the biggest such facilities in Egypt.
Her role is to ensure a smooth running of the communication process among all project stakeholders including the client, consultants, and contractors, with that process covering technical debates, value engineering, site problems, and variations, to name a few.
Like Panicker, Tahounya is the sole woman engineer for Hill International on the project and both of their efforts are well noticed by the line managers.
Panicker, for example, is emerging as a top contract specialist with growing expertise in the aviation sector, says her manager Aiman Arab, senior resident engineer for Abu Dhabi projects
“My efforts are well noticed by my managers who sometimes refer my “male” colleagues from different projects to reach me out when they need technical advice/support in my area of expertise,” says Tahounya. “This makes me feel I am part of the big family of Hill International.”
Contributions and challenges
In the construction industry, being a woman can come with its own set of challenges. But a way to deal with it is coming up with innovative solutions, says Matraji.
“With women being in several senior positions in Hill International, gender imbalance does not impact by ambitions,” Matraji says. “I believe women always have the natural ability to improve things and make them more efficient. In addition, women bring diversity that generates new ideas to solve problems.”
Lastly, the industry must bear in mind that the current work force of women engineers are harbingers, Matraji pointed out, adding that at Hill International there is mutual respect between both genders that results in hard work, fosters collaboration, and results in joint contributions to the successful completion of a project.
“I help different parties outline and organize their demands within the established program and budget by providing creative solutions that help the project’s continuity with the minimum number of obstacles,” says Tahounya.
Tahounya has to face multiple headwinds and she braces herself to deal with them.
Initially there are challenges and some also doubt our capabilities, but efficiency and coming up with innovative solutions paves the way for a better understanding, Tahounya says.
“All the pleasure comes after two or three months when I hear my name called out to solve problems or participate in a debate or a meeting to get matters solved,” she says.
The male-dominated nature of the construction industry has kept many women out of this vocation in the past, but that has changed considerably, says Panicker.
“Engineering is an exciting career choice with boundless growth opportunities,” says Panicker. “A career in construction is challenging, considering the temperatures and physical exertion. However, being part of a male-dominated industry allows me to prove myself and gain respect through commitment, sincerity, values, and contributions.”
This year’s theme for the International Women in Engineering Day is ‘Make Safety Seen,’ and for Tahounya and her work it is an issue of zero tolerance.
“I always believe safety will be maintained when all stakeholders believe we are one big family that cares for each other. I am very focused on this process and at work I’m sometimes jokingly called a ‘monster’ as I come down on erring workers,” Tahounya says.
Matraji points out safety is not only essential at the workplace but also at her home and daily life.
There is always a need to talk to colleagues, loved ones, and others related to the process on the benefits of safety, she says.
Safety is essential in any engineering task and in the case of a violation it can be “demotivating to those who look to contribute towards the growth and development in advanced fields of engineering,” Panicker says.
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