According to The Institution of Engineering and Technology, only 27% of Science and Engineering Technicians and 5.5% of Engineering Professionals are women.
Within that percentage falls Clare Chapman, operations director of the Ground Investigation Division at SOCOTEC. Working her way from Geological Technician to Operations Director, Clare has 30 years of experience working within the ground investigation, and geotechnical engineering environment.
To help inspire other women embark on a geotechnical career pathway, Clare talks us through her experience in the ground investigation industry.
Fresh out of A levels, all I really knew was that I wanted to work outdoors. With an interest in Geology, I wanted to explore the world of employment and took my first job as Geological Technician. Unbeknown to me where I would end up at this stage, I would go on site daily for the first four years of my career to carry out tasks such as field testing, sampling and in situ testing.
While I now manage the overall operations of dynamic probing, percussive window sampling, concrete coring, as well as rotary and cable percussion drilling, back then I was the one doing it! Like anyone starting out in their career, I had to demonstrate that I could do my job. Being a female technician, especially 30 years ago, there was the need to prove that this did not hinder my abilities as a Geological Technician. It was important to pull my weight, and more, to make sure I wasn’t the weak link in the team.
Outside of site work, there were demands within the job where I was required to support the laboratory and carry out many of the geotechnical tests. Being diligent and methodical, I was very tuned in to laboratory work – and it also broadened my understanding of the site investigation industry. With this responsibility, I grew confident in routine classification testing, chemical testing, permeability testing – to name but a few! These experiences at the beginning of my working life gave me a solid foundation to build my career.
Bumps in the road
In the geotechnical industry, it is not unheard of to overcome challenges and I’ve faced many in my career progression. Deciding I wanted to progress my career, I began to study for a degree in Geology at the Open University; working and studying made for a long week of multi-tasking. When I moved jobs, as with any job changes, I had to adapt quickly to new site techniques, supervise subcontracted drillers and manage other members of staff which included engineers, technicians and administration staff. This transition to contract coordinator inspired me to enrol on a Business Studies and Management course, leaving behind my Geology degree. Even then, I was told that being a woman in the industry meant I would never obtain respect from the drillers or engineers or understand the capabilities of the business. The novelty of having a female boss soon waned though; my abilities for directing contracts, organising site activities, producing reports to meet client requirements and managing time were recognised. Plus, I’ve never been afraid to get my hands dirty.
At the top of the tree
Now, fast forwards 30 years, my role at SOCOTEC, formerly ESG, as the Operations Director means I look after one of the biggest GI businesses in the UK – quite unique within this industry. As an equal opportunities employer, I feel my role at SOCOTEC is down to my abilities, attributes and determination that is recognised, rather than my gender. In my time, I’ve been able to empower others and embrace a team ethic. Getting females into science, technology, engineering and mathematics is one way of moving forwards to an equal gender industry.
As Operations Director, I manage my team of 200 staff doing that work that I myself have also done. One of my operations managers, Sarah Valentine, shows the same determination and commitment to the industry, with an extensive skillset in managing projects with technical knowledge, showing again that a woman is able to succeed and progress within the geotechnical industry.
The construction and drilling industry is such an impressive industry to be a part of, as it’s incredibly satisfying to know that I have been involved in some of the most iconic buildings and developments in the UK. Cases like M25, CrossRail 1, and Birmingham New Street Station are just some of the high profile projects my teams have been involved in, during the conception and pre-construction stage.
Through hard work and determination, I’ve been able to progress through the industry ladder. With experience in estimating, planning, resourcing, performing and managing site investigation work, at a range of sites including contaminated land, highways, airports, sewage treatment works, canals, MOD sites, gasworks and railways, it’s safe to say I now manage my teams having had full exposure to the reality of the industry, with first-hand technical experience.
If you’re looking for a career in ground investigation, why not take a look at SOCOTEC’s job vacancies?