12th February 2024

Empowering Women in Science: Spotlight on Geotechnical Engineering with Lucy

In honour of International Women and Girls in Science Day, we spoke to Lucy Jackson, a Graduate Geotechnical Engineer at Van Elle. She shares insights into her role, what inspired her to join, her experiences as a woman, and how we can encourage greater female participation in the industry.

Lucy’s journey into geotechnical engineering began with a passion for the Earth’s composition and processes.

Studying geography GCSE at school sparked her interest, leading her to pursue further studies at A Level and then a degree in physical geography and geology at Plymouth University.

It wasn’t until attending a career fair during university that Lucy discovered geotechnical engineering as a potential career path.

Lucy said: “The university course I pursued offered diverse career paths like Landscape Development, Environmental Consulting, and more. But seeing a significant presence of geotechnical contractors at the careers fair really sparked my interest. This prompted me to research further into that field.”

It was at this career fair where Lucy’s friend and now colleague, Shannon, made a lasting impression. Shannon, joined Van Elle in 2022 and spoke highly of the company, inspiring Lucy to explore further.

Witnessing Shannon’s success in a predominantly male-dominated field inspired Lucy. Lucy said: “Shannon found her place at Van Elle and had so many positive things to say about the business. Her achievements showed me that gender isn’t a barrier to success in geotechnical engineering. Her resilience and determination, along with her positive experiences at Van Elle, demonstrated that women can thrive in this industry.”

When Shannon informed Lucy of an opportunity at Van Elle, Lucy eagerly jumped at the chance to join. Since joining in March 2023, Lucy has found Van Elle to be more than just a workplace. She said: “Van Elle is a supportive community. Through challenges, triumphs, and everything in between, the company is incredibly encouraging and supportive.”

One notable project for Lucy is her involvement in the Lidl Belvedere project. Despite its size not being the largest she’s worked on, it was exceptionally busy. With three rigs running simultaneously, Lucy played a significant role in sampling and logging, finding the project both challenging and fascinating.

She noted: “It was a demanding yet intriguing experience.”

When discussing barriers she encountered, Lucy shared a couple of instances where she felt excluded or treated differently due to her gender. One example was during an external training course where the emphasis on using inclusive language, particularly in her presence as the only woman, made her feel more isolated rather than included.

She recalled, “The course leader was making a point of highlighting the fact you can no longer say ‘manhole cover’. He made a point of telling the other delegates he needed to be inclusive because I was present”.

Additionally, Lucy mentioned experiencing different treatment on-site, with some men assuming women couldn’t handle jokes or be treated equally.

She added: “Sometimes people overemphasise gender differences on-site, which only makes you feel more excluded. However, my overall experience with Van Elle has been exceedingly positive. My team both on and off-site have been fantastic.”

Lucy stressed the significance of supporting and guiding new starters, particularly women, through challenges they may encounter. She acknowledged the ongoing need to demonstrate women’s capabilities in the field and advised against feeling pressured to overperform due to gender, to prove a point.

Additionally, Lucy highlighted the need for improved on-site welfare practices, citing the frequent absence of toilets as a critical issue. She expressed: “The industry must prioritise consistent on-site welfare facilities.”

To promote greater female participation in the industry, Lucy recommends early exposure to career options.

She mentioned: “There was a noticeable gap between women in my university course and those in the industry.”

She emphasises the need to inspire graduates and raise awareness of career paths, starting as early as GCSE studies, adding: “We should do more to inspire graduates and highlight opportunities earlier in education. I wasn’t informed about career options during my GCSE studies.”

As she looks to the future, Lucy is eager to continue her career journey and hopes to become a mentor for young geologists and advocate for greater female participation in geotechnical engineering.

Visit our careers page for more information on Van Elle opportunities.