NSW DFSI’s Public Works Advisory supports women's engineering careers

Female engineers raising the bar at DFSI Public Works Advisory

Female engineers raising the bar at DFSI Public Works Advisory

Where Women Work asked public sector professionals and inspiring female engineers about their roles and the challenges they’re facing in their sector. As a division within the New South Wales’ Department of Finance Services and Innovation (DFSI), Public Works Advisory (PWA) provides services to Government agency clients, including local government and councils, to enable them to deliver infrastructure projects.

NSW DFSI Public Works Advisory diversity

Senior Engineer, Caroline McDonald, is a brilliant project manager

Caroline McDonald manages infrastructure projects, predominantly water and sewage challenges, on behalf of local councils and other Government agencies who ask for assistance. She loves seeing projects come together from the initial concept to completion and thrives on the fact that her work has a practical, direct benefit to the members of community.

Caroline enjoys a progressive career path

Caroline started her career with structural design work in Sydney, Australia before moving back to her home city of Canberra. She then applied for her current role within PWA, which offered her the perfect opportunity to change direction from design work and relocate as she settled into married life. Since joining PWA, Caroline has enjoyed a progressive career path with opportunities for internal promotion.

“There are a lot of people who’ve worked for Public Works for decades and have a significant amount of knowledge of previous projects that can be called upon,” explains Caroline. “There are areas within Public Works where unique and fascinating projects have been undertaken. I’ve been involved with jetties, water treatment plants, sewage treatment plants, pipelines, bridges, radio antenna towers and buildings. The list just goes on…”

Caroline loves the fact that her PWA colleagues are always willing to share their knowledge and the lessons they’ve learnt. As a female engineer, Caroline feels completely supported by her department and doesn't feel any differently treated than her male colleagues. However, her major challenge in the role is “the availability of engineering resources in regional areas, both staff and construction companies,” suggests Caroline. “The forward workload is quite healthy, however there are issues finding quality staff that are willing to locate to a regional town.”

She believed she could, so she did

Words to live by, Caroline believes that she owes her career to her interest in maths and science subjects at school. “We had a family friend who was an engineer,” remarks Caroline. “He saw my interest in maths and science when I was at school and encouraged it - and he coped quite well when I moved into a completely different field of engineering.”

DFSI Public Works - jobs

Portfolio Manager Emily Pitt moved from finance to project management

Emily manages a small team of project managers with a mix of professional backgrounds to deliver Infrastructure projects for other government agencies. “This can involve end-to-end project management or any part of the process, and the projects vary in size from several thousand dollars to several million dollars,” explains Emily.

Emily loves the variety of her role and enjoys knowing that she’s creativing facilities to improve lives. “We’re currently working on projects for local councils, Education, Health, and Crown Lands,” says Emily.

Emily started her career in finance but made the switch to project management when a position caught her eye. She soon fell in love with her new career path and undertook further study in project management to boost her credentials. She then started working in her current role and took on more complex programs and team leadership duties. Despite pressure on team resources, contractors and materials, Emily leads her team to bring a large amount of projects to completion by client deadline.

Emily feels completely supported in her role with PWA

“I don’t think I have ever felt that I am treated differently to my male colleagues in such a male dominated area,” says Emily. “I’ve been offered several opportunities to attend functions and workshops for Women in Project Management and Women in Public Sector Leadership, which has allowed me to hear from other women and how they have progressed in their careers and how they manage themselves in these environments.”

Public Works Advisory jobs - PWA careers

Engineer Heleen faces complex challenges head on

Heleen Lindeque thrives in her engineering role in the water treatment industry and faces head on the constant challenge to find solutions to complex problems without compromising on quality or safety.

“We provide services to other government agencies, it means that taxpayer money is more efficiently spent,” comments Heleen.

Part of Heleen’s job is to design and optimise wastewater and drinking water treatment processes to ensure that the desired quality is met. She is also involved in providing engineering services for infrastructure projects and aims to become a technical expert in her field.

What Helen appreciates most about working at the PWA, however, is that she’s not treated differently to other colleagues irrespective of gender. “I have both male and female colleagues who use the flexible working option to work from home if they need to look after family. Importantly, this removes any gender bias around flexible working only being for women.”

PWA - public works - Australia

Jennifer’s technical skills are useful in many ways

Jennifer Blaikie’s job is to ensure that NSW country towns have long-term water supply and sewerage plans so that they won’t run-out of water, won't need water restrictions too often and have sufficient capacity in the sewers and sewage treatment plants.

She loves hearing back from utilities after they’ve tracked down the causes to problems that she has identified as she recently saved a Water Utilities firm several million dollars in suggesting the need for better monitoring and control equipment instead of expensive building works.

Jennifer joined PWA straight from University and her technical engineering skills are also put to use solving puzzling issues with Microsoft Office for her colleagues.“I’ve mostly had a logical career path,” comments Jennifer, “and joined my current section within PWA straight out of University. We provide important work for the people of NSW, helping to make sure they have enough good quality water, sewage is handled and disposed of safely, and flooding is managed. I’ve also spent some time working at Manly Hydraulics Laboratory and in the River Structures teams.”

Kate Napier, Public Works women

Heritage Architect Kate, supports women in engineering

Senior Heritage Advisor, Kate Napier believes that engineers hold the key to a smarter way of working to reduce carbon emissions and waste across the sector. Her fabulous job involves fostering an appreciation of the State’s cultural heritage structures. “The Department is responsible for managing all state-owned assets so awareness of the inherent and specific values of cultural assets is essential,” explains Kate.

Kate loves the stimulation and rigour of an experienced, mature, multidisciplinary team grappling with complex issues. She says, “All jobs have ugly or boring components, the key is not to allow those aspects to dominate, if they do something’s not right with the project focus and that realisation should trigger a change in approach.”

Kate was destined for a career in architecture

“I wanted to be an architect, from age 13,” suggests Kate. From an early age, Kate sought out all kinds of building experiences, and even did her high school work experience in an architect’s office. Through university she worked for a well-known Heritage firm on some of Sydney’s most famous heritage buildings. Later, as a licensed labourer, Kate became involved in fast-paced design and construction on some great projects like the Walsh Bay waterfront precinct in Sydney. However when she had children, Kate needed family friendly work conditions and moved into local government for nine years in heritage and urban design.

“Now the kids are in high school I’ve joined the Department in the Heritage Asset Advisory team where we are mainly focused on repairs and maintenance of sandstone structures. It’s a very wholesome job and it’s great to be back working on buildings of such high quality and value to the State.”

Career advice from an inspirational female architect

“The Department has a legacy of can-do women, which was one of the draw-cards in my choosing to work here,” says Kate. However, she strongly believes that just sitting in the corner working hard won’t get you noticed. “Walk the floor and talk to people and be yourself, taking yourself too seriously is no fun, for anyone.”

Public Works women

Kristy reminds women in engineering and construction to be authentic

Project Environmental Advisor, Kristy Harvey, believes it’s important for women in the engineering and construction industry to remember the strong feminine qualities of communication, empathy, compassion and creativity in problem solving. “High work loads, tight deadlines, and maximum output can sometimes favour other qualities and it is important to be authentic to yourself in the way you conduct your work,” she says.

In her role, Kristy undertakes planning, compliance and advisory services for government public infrastructure projects. She works with a regional project management team to deliver projects on the NSW North Coast. “I also work with environmental representatives from each region to facilitate environmental knowledge sharing and environmental improvements in project and contract management across PWA,” says Kristy.

A move to the coast for former park ranger, Kristy

With an agricultural background, Kristy has worked within environmental sections of the mining industry and as a coordinator for agricultural catchment management groups and environmental specialist interest community groups, schools and councils. She then moved on to a career as a National Parks and Wildlife Service Ranger in Northern NSW and Western NSW.

But, personal circumstances required Kristy to look for work closer to the coast. So, she found work in the environmental section of the Pacific Highway Upgrade Office before joining PWA.

When it comes to her life and current role, Kristy’s favourite quote ‘Your life is a blank canvas and you are the artist, create the masterpiece,” are words she likes to live by. Kristy says that she “loves assisting other government bodies in managing contracts and delivering of projects to high standards for the betterment of communities”. Kristy truly thrives on the fact that she is forging great relationships. “There are a lot of very talented forward-thinking people that I have the privilege of working with in PWA on a large variety of engineering and building projects.”

Role models - inspirational women

Engineer Sarah encourages others to take on regional roles in NSW

Regional Project Coordinator within PWA, Sarah Wylie, strongly advocates for opportunities for engineers to work in regional location and foresees some of the challenges in attracting engineers to regional NSW. “Not only is there a fantastic lifestyle and work/life balance, but also significant opportunity to take on more responsibility early on in your engineering career,” she says as she suggests that candidates should consider applying for roles in rural areas more.

Sarah loves the fact that her engineering role means that she can lead a talented team of people to work with public sector clients to deliver improved infrastructure projects for the people of NSW. “Over the last year, our team has worked on Muswellbrook Recycled Water Treatment Works, Gunnedah Hospital Kitchen and Theatre upgrade, Ashford Water Treatment Plant, Nyngan Fire Station, Hunter Sports High School redevelopment and John Hunter Hospital Paediatric Intensive Care Unit,” she explains as she reels off some impressive achievements. “We provide services anywhere from the business case to delivery through to completion of a project and everywhere in between. My team is just one of many in Public Works Advisory which work together to contribute to DFSI delivering improvement to the services in NSW.”

Sarah loves that Public Works Advisory works with clients to deliver close to $4 billion dollars of public infrastructure works across NSW. “I’m impressed by our dedicated and committed staff who work to deliver our client’s projects, although our work and the services we provide are often not publicly recognised.”

No two days are the same for Sarah

“I wouldn’t say that my days or weeks are ever the same,” comments Sarah. “I can be working with one of my staff on a project in regional or remote NSW, or then meeting with a client to discuss their works program and what assistance they may require to deliver the program, or working as part of the Engineering Emergency Management team during or post a disaster.”

Of course, there are less exciting areas to Sarah’s role, and she’s not too keen on the administration tasks, however Sarah suggests that this requirement may be the same in any organisation. “You’ll never get away from administration completely,” she laments.

Sarah, a successful engineer, has always sought out new challenges

After completing undergraduate studies in engineering, Sarah started her career in the construction industry in a non-technical engineering role, but one where she had early exposure to a variety of experiences.

Reflecting on her career, Sarah says, “I have always sought roles I find challenging and where I can work with interesting people on interesting projects. I would say that my career reflects the broad application and opportunities presented with professional engineering qualifications.”

A woman in a man’s world

For much of her early career, Sarah felt that she was a very much ‘a woman in a man’s world’. “Often the only other female colleagues were in non-technical roles. I was regularly the only female in meetings and at conferences,” she explains.

However, as her career has progressed with PWA, Sarah has seen significant change. “I’m no longer the only female in meetings. In my experience with PWA, I am treated as an equal and the organisation, it managers and staff uphold the organisation’s values of integrity, trust, accountability and service.”

Learning from inspirational role models

“Growing up, I remember my mum had a book on prominent women from history and I particularly remember the accounts of Vivian Bullwinkel, Nancy Wake, Nancy Bird Walton and Amelia Earhart to name a few. Not necessarily role models for a career as an engineer, but certainly role models for courage, determination and strength of character.”

“More recently a quote which resonates with me is from David Morrison, for Chief of the Australian Army: the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” Strongly committed to philanthropy, each September sees Sarah complete a week long 500 km charity ride for an organisation which is close to her personally.

Opportunities for talented engineers

For women seeking opportunities in the engineering and construction sector, PWA within DFSI is a very progressive employer with brilliant flexible working options. Why not research career vacancies and apply for your next career opportunity within the public sector.


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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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