WSP Opus - Women Engineers in New Zealand

22 June 2018 Chloe Brigden

To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, we sat down with The University of Auckland's first Civil Engineer graduate, Sue Scott. 

 In 1975, Sue was joined by 90 members of her class to accept a certification from the Faculty of Engineering. Receiving educational recognition is a huge achievement for most but in Sue’s case, the feat was much sweeter. Sue was the University of Auckland's first female to ever receive such distinction.

Sue’s career has been as equally impressive as her educational triumphs. Upon graduation, Sue was employed by the Wellington Regional Water Board, Bulk Water Supply Division (a precursor of the Wellington Regional Council).  

During this time, Sue was the only female to work on significant projects associated with the major upgrade of the water supply from Wainuiomata to Thorndon in Wellington. It included cross-connecting with the existing Hutt Valley water supply system.

Additional career achievements include working for the Ministry of Works and Development Water & Soil Division on administering the policies for the Government funding of major Irrigation Schemes, and on implementing aspects of the Water & Soil Conservation Act that came under the jurisdiction of the National Water and Soil Conservation Authority. 

In 1983, 8 years after receiving her degree, Sue passed her professional interview with Engineering New Zealand (previously called IPENZ ) and became a registered engineer. 

In 2004, Sue joined (WSP) Opus at the Alexandra office working on a number of projects including some major New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) projects, projects for Central Otago District Council (CODC) and Queenstown Lake District Council (QLDC) and some irrigation companies.

Industry Talk with Sue Scott 

Sue Scott - WSP OPUS New Zealand Engineer

Breaking the mould
"Many of the staff had initial difficulty having a female student in front of them after years of teaching only male students.  I did have one particular memory of one of the course supervisors, who helped me to remain focused on completing the course as I had a period of misgivings about my ability to pass. 

He was very encouraging and I appreciated the kind words of encouragement that he gave. My class, although otherwise all male, looked out for me and I enjoyed the ‘family’ atmosphere that existed".

Family and Peer Support
"My family and friends were mostly very supportive of my choice of career.  Unfortunately for a few years some nay-sayers were quite negative and advised me against engineering as it “wasn’t something girls did”.  

There seemed to be an implication that there would be physical aspects that I wouldn’t be able to handle or that it would be too “dirty”.  Also, they were worried that I might hear some bad words if I was working with men!  All pretty funny when you think about it.

I was even dissuaded from pursuing engineering by a university liaison person who came to my high school.  He was most unsupportive of my wishes."

Career choice
"I had completed my “intermediate” year at Otago and had intended to enrol in engineering school from there, but was talked out of it & proceeded to complete a BSc in mathematics. 

At the end of this, I was a bit disillusioned about what career opportunities I had ahead of me and decided that I would rather be at Engineering School.

Engineering was what I had wanted to do from quite a young age. Don’t ask me where I got the idea from, but I can remember being interested quite early on."

Then vs. now
"Starting work in the 1970s, the computer age was in its infancy and technical portable calculators were very new.  

The rich kids had them at Engineering School!  Everything was worked from first principles and by longhand.  No computer models back then.

Also, there was no law that required employers to not discriminate when deciding on job applicants.  So, there were still lots of silly prejudices rolled out by prospective employers, who could just decide and not give a reason that they weren’t going to employ you!

I found myself becoming involved in some of the professional women’s movements back in the 1970s.  By the 1980s things had settled down a bit and I was accepted as normal.

In my first engineering position, my boss pointed out to some co-workers that it seemed wrong that I had “prove myself” by working to a higher standard than male counterparts doing the same work in order to be accepted."

The industry today
"Unfortunately, the numbers of females entering engineering careers are still disappointingly low, although leaps and bounds better than back then.  Female school students are often still steered away from the profession and trades.

Fortunately, in recent years many of the trades have become more welcoming to females and I hope that this will have some spinoffs to the professions."

Career advice
"My advice is 'just do it'.  There are no barriers and the Uni and work environments are both much more accepting."

Fondest moments
"I have an awful lot of significant memories as WSP Opus.  I was most blown away by the attitude of management toward staff.  We were constantly valued and supported, and encouraged to work to a high standard."