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Women In Engineering: Meet WSP engineer Claire Gott MBE

Women In Engineering: Meet WSP engineer Claire Gott MBE

 June 23, 2021

UK Head of Industry at WSP, Claire Gott MBE, is driven by making a tangible difference as she champions diversity and positive sustainable change - and she's rewriting the narrative for women in engineering.

Claire Gott was helping to rebuild an orphanage in Tanzania aged 17 when she realised she wanted to become an engineer. She studied Civil Engineering and Architecture and played a founding role in sustainable development charity, Cameroon Catalyst – for which she was awarded an MBE by Prince Charles for her contributions. Now, as UK Head Industry at WSP, Claire manages a team of 100 people across multiple sectors from pharmaceuticals to hydrogen.

Here, Claire shares with Where Women Work her experiences of being the only female in the room, why you don’t need all the answers to get ahead, and how diversity helps businesses to thrive.

You were still at school when you decided to become an engineer. What inspired you to follow this path?

I had a bit of a eureka moment while on a school trip when I was 17. We were helping to rebuild an orphanage in Tanzania and it inspired me to do something where I could tangibly make a difference. I enjoyed the process of seeing projects transform into legacies for future generations. When I was a child, I was always interested in the ‘how’. I used to ask my parents things like, ‘How does that television work?’ I used to need to understand it, which I think is the engineer in me. 

As UK Head of Industry, you lead a team of 100 people across a number of sectors including pharmaceuticals, life sciences, chemicals, gas and hydrogen. How would you describe your approach to work? How do you achieve success in a multifunctional environment?

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While I'm a civil engineer, most of our team specialise in process engineering across these sectors. I'm not going to know the answer to everything, but I know there is someone in my team that will. So we come together collaboratively to provide the best solutions for our clients. Our clients are at the heart of everything we do. It's about understanding their needs and making sure the expectations are understood on both sides so we can take them on that journey together. 

Were you ever nervous about not having all the answers? How did you overcome this?

I was definitely nervous at the start. It was a new role, a new team and I wasn't a chemical or process engineer. But I'd worked on lots of major multidiscipline complex and high-profile projects with WSP in the past so I had a different dynamic, a different viewpoint and different experiences to offer. I wasn't afraid to ask questions. But I was also encouraging the team to ask me questions as well. We spent the first few months just getting to know one another.

You have achieved a lot during a short space of time. What do you put that down to and have you always had that drive within you?

It's the same in everything I do, you should ask my husband! I can't do anything by halves, I have to give it my all. That's just part of who I am. If I have committed to something, I will absolutely give it my all. I've just followed that through in my career. I think following something you're passionate about enables you to do that even more. Bringing in the Corporate Social Responsibility role, which aims to make positive sustainable change at WSP, has helped to bring that passion into my day-to- day role as well.

Do you consider yourself to be ambitious?

I've always struggled with the age old question of where do you want to be in 5-10 years time. I don't have this big goal I'm aspiring towards. I'm just always trying to do my best. But I am also always looking for the next challenge and that's what keeps me on my toes. That's what keeps me excited. What's brilliant about working at WSP is there's always another opportunity. There's always the next step.

Have you ever had any challenges or obstacles you've had to overcome during your career? And how has WSP supported you through them?

The challenges have only ever been juggling complex projects, client demands and workload while managing the team. But I don't think that's necessarily an obstacle. I think that's more a function of the type of magnificent projects we work on. The support is absolutely there for everybody at WSP. But the onus is on the individual to make sure they ask for that support. What's great is we advertise all these different elements and networks across WSP like Thrive, the employee assistant programme, PGN and Taskforce. All of these initiatives can support you on a personal level. On a project level, there are also mentors who can help you.

There must have been lots of instances throughout your career where you've been the only female in the room. Do you think the culture is changing and what more do you think we need to do to change the working environment?

From a very early age I was the only female in the room, especially in my physics and Design and Technology lessons at school. But I got used to that and it didn't faze me. What's great about being the only female in the room is it gives you a different viewpoint. As a woman, I can engage in a slightly different way with our clients. My mind works differently, so I ask different questions and it creates a different relationship with the client. We know from a business perspective there are huge benefits having diverse teams and I do think the culture is changing. Now it’s about having the confidence to pick people up on things when they don't realise they're doing something wrong. I think this is where there's room for improvement in society.

There will be a lot of people who will look up to you and will want to follow a similar career path. What advice do you have for them?

The most significant point in my career was when I acknowledged we are part of such a massive global organisation and we have the opportunity to get involved in so many different aspects of it. Take those opportunities. Don't wait for them to land for you. Go out and proactively look for them. When I moved from being a structural engineer and into design management, that was because I knew I was more of a people person than a technical guru. I took the initiative to ask for a role on the London Bridge Station redevelopment programme. That was the first step I took in redefining my own career. I would encourage early career professionals to do the same. Have the confidence to ask what's next and there will be a mechanism there to support you.

This Women in Engineering Day is all about heroes. Who have your heroes been throughout your career?

I struggle with this one because there are no female role models in our generation. We can go hundreds of years back and say how fantastic they were, but there aren't any immediately that this generation can get excited about. If I'm allowed to say someone who is more junior than me, I think Greta Thunberg's pretty inspiring. What she's doing in terms of driving change globally is phenomenal. For a lady of her age as well. So if I had to say someone who is in the public eye, making a massive difference, I would say Greta.

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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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